A state appeals court panel Thursday upheld the conviction of a former owner and operator of more than a dozen Southland drug treatment and rehabilitation centers for sexually assaulting or exploiting seven patients and offering controlled substances.

The three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there was not substantial evidence to support the charges against Christopher Bathum and that errors were made during his trial in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

Bathum — who owned and operated Community Recovery of Los Angeles and other entities in Southern California and Colorado — was sentenced to nearly 53 years in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after being convicted in February 2018 of 31 counts, including forcible rape, sexual penetration by a foreign object, forcible oral copulation, sexual exploitation and offering controlled substances, including methamphetamine and heroin.

Jurors acquitted Bathum of a dozen other charges and deadlocked on three remaining counts.

“Each one is a drug addict,” Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said of Bathum’s victims at the outset of the trial. Some of the women suffered from shame and hopelessness, and Bathum exploited the fact that they had “shared some of their most intimate secrets with him,” the prosecutor told the jury.

The defendant — who lived with his wife and children in Agoura — gave his patients drugs as they were trying to break a cycle of addiction, used alongside them and taught them how to beat drug tests, the prosecutor said. Bathum also offered the women special privileges, such as internships, company cars and access to iPhones, positioning himself as a father figure to the young women in their 20s and 30s, but acting like a predator, Mueller said.

“They were easy targets. They were perfect victims,” the prosecutor told jurors.

Bathum’s trial attorney, Carlo A. Spiga, told the panel that the rehab centers did a lot of good and credited his client. He downplayed the assaults, telling jurors the “evidence is not going to show that any of these acts were forcible.”

The defense attorney said he would leave it to the jurors to judge the credibility of the women testifying against Bathum, but also offered comments like, “She knew what she was doing at all times” and “How many of them were hitting him up for money?”

In his closing argument, Spiga said he was “not just passively going to sit here … and accept this character attack on Mr. Bathum.”

Bathum pleaded no contest in January in a separate case to 14 felony counts in connection with a $175 million insurance fraud scheme in which he was charged with Kirsten Wallace. He was sentenced in that case to 20 years in state prison, which will run at the same time as the sentence in the sexual assault case.

After the two were arrested in 2016, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones called the case “one of the largest health insurance fraud cases in California.” Wallace — who co-owned Community Recovery of Los Angeles with Bathum — pleaded guilty in 2018 to all 46 felony counts against her and was immediately sentenced to 11 years in state prison.

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