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THR Investigation: 2 Deaths at an A-List Hollywood Rehab

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Rehab Illustration Whirlpool - H 2013
Illustration by: Jeremy Enecio
To be sure, the rehabilitation business is fraught with risk. Clients often arrive in perilous physical and mental health. Even the best care can't always save the toughest cases. But some employees and clients of One80 say that the facility doesn't give every client the best shot at recovery.

The drowning of a shop-happy alcoholic and an Oxy-Contin OD by the son of an NYC real estate kingpin, both in the same room at L.A.'s posh One80 Center, lead to troubling allegations that the Hollywood players and billionaires who dry out there can "half-ass" recovery -- with dire results.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"I'm gonna go upstairs, take a bath and drown myself," Jean Galletta said shortly before she died on the evening of April 27, 2012. The blond-haired, blue-eyed, 52-year-old mother of two was known for her wicked sense of humor, so her caretakers at a sober-living home in the Hollywood Hills thought she was being sarcastic.

Soon after, they were pulling her 139-pound body out of a bathtub at One80 Center, a luxury addiction treatment provider frequented by many in the entertainment industry and their loved ones. According to the coroner's report, vomit was flowing from her mouth and nose. Staff members placed a bag valve mask over her face and furiously worked an automatic external defibrillator, in what the report describes as an unsuccessful attempt to revive her. A cigarette pack lay on the sink counter, an empty bottle of wine nearby. Multiple candles, some of them lit, were scattered all around.

Firefighters soon arrived at the property, located at a $2.9 million, Cape Cod-style house on lower Sunset Plaza Drive, pronouncing her dead at 10:08 p.m. Her blood-alcohol level was .24, enough to lose consciousness. The official cause of death was drowning. There was no suicide note.

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The next day, One80 leaders would gather staff members and clients in a Zen garden at another of their posh properties above Beverly Hills to talk about the tragedy of addiction and contemplate the challenge of fighting such a pernicious disease. But some who attended were quietly upset for another reason: They wondered whether Galletta's death was partly the result of improper care and emblematic of a larger pattern of decision-making at One80.

There had been another questionable client death eight months earlier, the circumstances leading up to it retrospectively haunting many employees and clients. On Aug. 14, 2011, Andrew Witkoff, the 22-year-old son of a Manhattan real estate titan, overdosed on OxyContin smuggled into his sober-living sanctum. His $1,000-a-day sober companion found him in his bedroom -- the same room at the Sunset Plaza facility that Galletta briefly would call home.

Concerns about these deaths, as well as several other issues related to client care at One80, were brought to the attention of THR after it published an article in April examining business practices across L.A.'s high-end rehab scene. Eight current and former employees and clients of the facility have come forward, some frustrated with what they consider to be an ineffectual state licensing board, the Department of Health Care Services, which they say has been passive in addressing their complaints. (The same agency has come under fire since CNN and the Center for Investigative Reporting ran a joint series beginning July 26, documenting how it had done nearly nothing to stop systemic Medi-Cal fraud involving at least 56 of its licensed rehab clinics, even though sources say it had been made aware of the trouble years earlier. State Attorney General Kamala Harris now is looking into it.)

They all insisted on anonymity. The clients wished to maintain privacy about their struggles, and the current and former staffers felt future employers would look unkindly on them for having spoken out. Public records -- including coroner's reports, police statements, property records, city ethics commission filings, court lawsuits and licensing board complaints released to THR -- have supplemented their allegations.

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To be sure, the rehabilitation business is fraught with risk. Clients often arrive in perilous physical and mental health. Even the best care can't always save the toughest cases. But some employees and clients of One80 say that the facility doesn't give every client the best shot at recovery. Specifically, they question the operating behavior of One80's CEO Alex Shohet and his wife, clinical director Bernadine Fried. They say the couple has established a de facto hierarchical client care system, wherein the rich and famous are allowed special privileges -- potentially to their recovery detriment -- while lower-profit insurance cases are treated more strictly. They also claim that One80 is treating clients with acute dual diagnosis issues such as schizophrenia and extreme anorexia, which would be improper under state regulatory rules because the facility lacks on-site medical staffing. They believe these clients should be referred to more properly equipped psychiatric facilities. Notes DHCS spokeswoman Carol Sloan of the department's expectation of its rehabs: "If [the clients'] diagnosis makes them unfit to be in our programs and requires them to have a higher level of care than what [the DHCS] license allows for, it is the responsibility of the program to refer the clients to an appropriate level of care." In addition, it's asserted that Shohet, who is not credentialed to make clinical care decisions, regularly involves himself in the clinical decisions of his staff therapists and that Fried is not sufficiently engaged in her own oversight role.

The couple vehemently denies the claims and describes themselves as misunderstood. They point to various community good works One80 is involved with -- from developing a nonprofit career mentorship program for people in early recovery to a jobs initiative for the homeless -- as evidence of their well-placed hearts. "All of [these allegations are] 180 degrees away from us as human beings," says Shohet. Adds Fried: "We do really dedicated, thoughtful, compassionate work here. Anybody that knows us will tell you that." They question the motives and credibility of their unnamed critics, convinced that one former employee in particular, whom they characterize as "disgruntled," is simply retaliating for being fired and unfairly has recruited, according to Shohet, "very damaged, easily manipulated" clients to promulgate an agenda.

Long before Galletta and Witkoff were found dead in their rooms -- Galletta merely days after she had complained about being moved several times by One80, according to the coroner's report -- the facility had established itself among the growing community of L.A.'s high-end rehab facilities, some of which charge clients as much as $90,000 a month. Opened in April 2010 on Summitridge Drive in Beverly Hills' Benedict Canyon, the private residence offered luxury amenities -- including flat-screen TVs, Pilates and high-thread-count sheets -- to compete with the likes of Promises, Passages and Cliffside further west, along the so-called Malibu "Rehab Riviera." The low-slung midcentury house, featuring views across the L.A. basin, was home in the early 1950s to Elizabeth Taylor and then-husband Michael Wilding. In the ensuing years, the business, backed by a small cadre of investors like A-list jewelry designer Cathy Waterman, has grown to include leased residences further east in the Hollywood Hills, among them the Sunset Plaza address.

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Other properties were taken over as $17,000-a-month sober homes that One80 would then begin the careful process of attempting to license as full-fledged treatment facilities, for which it could then charge far more: $55,000 a month for a private room. This yielded mixed results. An estate on Laurel Canyon Boulevard that often is linked to Harry Houdini received its license in April. But neighbors thwarted an attempt to license a nearby Wonderland Avenue property that once was a top-secret studio complex run by the military (it processed footage of desert nuclear tests). There had been big plans to renovate it into a chic, loftlike refuge, boasting a top-tier gym and a state-of-the-art recording studio. During a March tour of the facility, employee Justin Carroll told THR of a planned room, "It'll be a Soho House-type place for the sober community."

Shohet, 51, and Fried, 52, founded One80 after acrimoniously parting ways with a rehab they had partnered in, Wonderland (best known as a Lindsay Lohan detox destination and since rebranded as The Hills by its remaining principal, Dr. Howard Samuels). Shohet didn't begin his career in the rehab realm. He studied engineering at UC Irvine and UCLA and once was a computer systems engineer, working for years for MGM, News Corp., Warner Bros. and Spelling Entertainment. He became a serial technology entrepreneur and in 2000 was named head of ShowBIZ Data, a website tracking box-office information, after one of his Internet applications, Media Taxi, was acquired by the firm. But Shohet also wrestled with a serious drug habit and only kicked it in 2004 following stays at, by his count, 10 treatment centers. Once clean, Shohet reinvented himself, turning his enterprising drive toward the city's burgeoning luxury detox sector. Says one ex-employee: "He uses that in his pitch to potential clients. 'I've been to every other treatment center there is, and they don't work. That's why the One80 way is the way.' "

Fried, like Shohet a onetime heroin user, has been licensed as an addiction therapist for 17 years after graduating from Phillips Graduate Institute in Encino. She's well known in the most privileged reaches of rehab care. She has led staff training at both Eric Clapton's Crossroads Center in Antigua (where Cory Monteith detoxed four months before his July overdose death) as well as at Malibu's Promises, and she maintains a Beverly Hills practice catering to what she describes as "some of the highest-profile" clientele. She first met her husband back when he was her drug dealer. "We were junkies together," says Shohet. Later, once she was a therapist, she was integral in getting him clean. Says a former employee: "They're really open about it; they self-disclose -- it's all part of their lore. It's important for authenticity. Drug and alcohol addicts oftentimes just aren't interested [in listening to you] unless you've been there, too."

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One80's critics cite an array of concerns about the facility, which Shohet and Fried claim has 60 employees and a 3-to-1 staff-to-client ratio (among them former Full House star -- and recovering meth and alcohol addict -- Jodie Sweetin, who works as a clinical logistics coordinator). A fundamental issue is what some see as a caste system of treatment. The most deep-pocketed clients are said to be given far more leeway than their insurance-paying brethren to personalize their experience to their short-term convenience -- if not their long-term rehabilitation. Car privileges within days of arrival, opting out of otherwise mandatory group therapy sessions, impromptu visits from colleagues, even on-site sleepovers with significant others: According to sources, none is out of the ordinary at the facility. Notes one client: "If you're famous and cash-paying, you don't have to do shit. Any time you ask, 'Why is this person being treated differently from this other person?' they say, 'It's individualized treatment.' It was a great cover-all. They never had to give any more explanation than that."

For instance, says the client, "there was a woman of a certain level of fame, and within the first day she had her phone and she'd leave and come back high on crack. But because she had 'important things to do,' she was allowed to go to things like the Country Music Awards. When people would bring that up, the response was, of course, 'individualized care!' "

An employee seconds that assessment. "With cash pay, you can do whatever the f-- you want," this person says. "With insurance pay, you have to follow certain guidelines."

Citing client confidentiality and HIPAA standards, Shohet and Fried declined to address the specifics of any patient situation discussed in this story. But Shohet says insurance guidelines require different treatment than cash-paying clients receive. "We have to monitor attendance [at, for instance, group meetings] because that's mandated by the insurance company," he notes, adding that the more "innovative" approach, which he has had the freedom to put in place with cash clients, is better. "When you're in individualized care, being in group isn't always in your best interest. If I could tell this to insurers, I would."

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But another client, from a prominent entertainment industry family, observes that the approach amounted to a honey trap for affluent addicts. "These people are going to keep coming back because there's leniency," says this person. "The reason I kept going back there myself is because you know you don't really have to do much work. You can half-ass it." In total, this client returned four times.

Adds the significant other of a high-profile client now chagrined that he was allowed to bunk with her for stretches at a time: "I certainly think she got a lot of latitude, and not to her benefit. I mean, they let her have her friggin' boyfriend there, which is insane! I don't think it's malicious, but it's just one bad choice after another."

The treatment of dual diagnosis clientele also is a sore point for One80's critics because the facility isn't licensed as a hospital and can't retain doctors on-site. They claim One80 has accepted people with severe co-morbidity issues such as schizophrenia and anorexia, even though ethical obligation and its state license require One80 to refer such cases out once identified. "There have been people who obviously, immediately, should have been put at UCLA in the psychiatric ward, but instead they were kept there," says one former staffer.