Book

Bad Therapist

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No one is more susceptible to con artistry than the desperate, the addicted, and those living in Los Angeles, the city where dreams can come true. In 2009, Chris Bathum's dreams seemed to do just that. An underemployed swimming pool cleaner, he parlayed a dubious degree from a hypnosis school into a string of sober-living facilities around Malibu—one of thousands of such unlicensed operations along the Rehab Riviera.

His story is told in a fresh format: Bad Therapist by Evan Wright, author of Generation Kill, is the first of six "books" in an Amazon Original Stories series for Kindle, collectively titled Exposure. Each entry is longer than a typical magazine feature but shorter than most non–fiction books.

"Dr. Bathum" (or "L. Ron Bathum," as his devotees sometimes called their charismatic leader) stumbled on what looked like a no-fail scheme built on increased opioid use, a recession that left the SoCal coast littered with empty McMansions, and the avalanche of addiction treatment money mandated by the Affordable Care Act. He staffed his facilities with former or current drug addicts (who earned commissions for bringing in other addicts), reality TV show personalities, and a former member of the rock band Danzig. Patients were charged up to $100,000 a month, and if any of them squealed about Bathum's habit of raping his clients or about the crystal meth found in his Tesla, well, drug addicts lie, right? With virtually no oversight and insurance companies churning out checks, by 2016 Bathum took in $176 million.

Wright chronicles this "fraudsters paradise" with punch as well as heart, taking us, for instance, into the lives of two drug-addicted sisters and offering them the dignity Bathum worked hard to destroy.

Like any good Hollywood story, this one has a hero. Rose Stahl—29, pink-haired, and "sweet as a marshmallow"—morphs from Bathum acolyte into the person who will overcome addiction, play detective, escape an attempt on her life, and bring down the man who brought down so many others.