THR Investigation: 2 Deaths at an A-List Hollywood Rehab
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.
Adds another, whose job duties included initial case assessments: "Dual-diagnosis issues do come with the territory when you're treating addiction. Depression, things like that. But when you have something extreme -- eating disorders, schizophrenia, bipolarity with psychotic features -- clients need true psychiatric care to get better with their addiction. Otherwise, you're setting people up for failure."
In one instance, a wealthy "floridly psychotic schizophrenic," as an ex-employee describes him, was moved into the Laurel Canyon sober-living home. Precautions included switching kitchen knives to plastic and assigning him a companion trained only to monitor for sobriety, not debilitating mental illness. "I asked Alex," says the case assessor, " 'How can anyone do talk therapy with someone who is having auditory hallucinations and delusions?' " (Shohet and Fried declined to discuss it, citing HIPAA.)
Another client, heir to one of Hollywood's most well-known fortunes, arrived at Summitridge in July 2011 "ready to die," this client tells THR, at the end stage of a battle with heroin and anorexia. "They didn't do anything for my eating disorder," says the client. "They had a once-a-week group, for an hour, on eating disorders. I ended up losing a lot of weight there and passed out and hit my head on the floor and had five stitches." This person says their family spent more than $250,000 on care there. Shohet and Fried deny this person's claim entirely.
A third concern is that Shohet, as One80's CEO, has involved himself in all manner of clinical care judgments, including the timing of client transfers to sober-living homes, despite having no certification for addiction care. "He absolutely makes decisions and then insists that other people follow them," says one staffer. "Yeah, cool, you own a rehab. But you're not a licensed therapist or addiction professional." His influence, it's said, is allowed by Fried, nominally the clinical director despite spending most of her time off-site tending to her private practice.
Sources say Fried averages two days a week at the Summitridge headquarters as well as every other Saturday. (She insists she's on-site up to four days a week. Regardless, she says, "the more important thing is that there's always a licensed person up there.") According to one client, "She was almost never there, and if she was, she wasn't available to be seen unless you were a client of her private practice as well." Shohet, say multiple sources, filled the vacuum by freely weighing in on client care decisions. "His line was, 'I might not have any letters behind my name, but I've been in a relationship with a therapist for 25 years and went through a dozen treatment centers,' " says one ex-staffer. Adds a current employee: "On the one hand, he's a very sweet person trying to help people. On the other, he's also trying to make money." Observes a third staffer, who has since left One80, "The most terrifying thing is that Alex thinks he's doing the right thing."
The couple believes his role has been unjustly mischaracterized. "I've had opinions about things. But it's a team environment. I don't dictate client care -- I never have, I never will," says Shohet. "I'm a systems guy." Adds Fried: "Alex can be influential like a life coach or an adviser or a mentor because he has so much experience in the entrepreneurial world -- life skills and things like that. He can be pretty invested, but at the end of the day it's the licensed professional's call."
Jean Galletta and Andrew Witkoff, the fatalities at Sunset Plaza, embodied One80's range of client demographics. She was middle-class, "a frustrated housewife type" (by the estimation of one employee) with a drinking problem from a small town in Pennsylvania. Divorced and on disability from her administrative assistant job at a pharmaceutical company, she is said to have had a gold-plated health-care plan -- "insane Aetna coverage, almost unheard of, like the goose that laid the golden egg," says the former employee. "I heard others talk numerous times about her insurance. She was like an ATM machine." The coverage allowed her to escape her bleak reality. "She made this whole new life, living in a mansion in the hills, the way she always thought she was entitled to." Notes a friend from rehab, "She liked to shop a lot, to show off the clothes she'd buy."
Witkoff, meanwhile, was a cash client, the son of Steven Witkoff, a Manhattan real estate kingpin and onetime lawyer to Donald Trump whose holdings include iconic properties like the Woolworth Building. "They called him Big Tuna because he had a tattoo of the Starkist Tuna fish on his arm," says a client who was at One80 with Witkoff, who graduated from New York City's elite Riverdale Country School before attending the University of Miami. Adds a former employee: "He was funny, sensitive, a really sweet kid. But super-insecure because he was kind of overweight -- the chubby funny guy." (He carried 276 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame at the time of his death, according to a coroner's report.) A current employee says, "Andrew was a nice f--ing kid, and the fact that he died in their care is unbelievable."
One80 catered to Witkoff, consenting to a striking degree of latitude in its care, according to several people familiar with his time there. The facility, ostensibly treating him for drug dependency, allowed him to regularly skip mandatory drug tests. According to another former employee, "His whole thing was, 'Peeing in front of other people gives me anxiety attacks.' Most treatment centers say, 'Sorry it makes you nervous, but you have to do it.' Not there. The few times he did [take the test], he failed." (And even then, some results were attributed to "false positives.")
In another incident, while he was staying at the Summitridge facility, his toilet became backed up. When it was unclogged, straws emerged. "It was obvious that he was doing something," according to the first employee. "He just denied it and said it must have been someone else. I mean, you have to assume he's snorting something."
While the couple declined to comment on the specifics of Witkoff's and Galletta's cases, Shohet did insist, "I 100 percent believe we have not made any serious judgment mistakes that have caused harm [at One80]." However, Shohet sent an e-mail dated July 21 to staff that took note of THR's investigation and asked them to keep quiet about internal practices. One80 "is a young organization," wrote Shohet. "We will always be improving. Therefore if we make any mistakes or have any setbacks these are learning opportunities for improvement. We measure success by openly discussing any strengths and weaknesses without ego or blame."
Witkoff eventually was "stepped down" to One80's Sunset Plaza sober-living home in early summer 2011, after close to half a year at Summitridge, despite the fact that, according to sources, he repeatedly had failed to maintain sobriety -- the prerequisite at most facilities for transferring to a less restrictive environment. So why move him? "They wanted to keep him happy," says a staffer. "He was a cash-paying client with a prominent father." When contacted, the Witkoff family declined to comment about their son's care.
Galletta arrived in spring 2011, leaving in September. But she relapsed almost immediately, "drank herself practically into a coma in Pennsylvania," says a former staffer, and returned to One80 in November. She was a polarizing figure among clients. Notes one: "There were a lot of people that hated her and a lot of people that loved her. She had a big problem and didn't want to get better." According to another employee, before she arrived, her assigned therapist suggested that Galletta, clearly an acute case, "needed more monitored treatment" -- in other words, the comparatively strict structure and on-site medical personnel of a traditional facility such as the Betty Ford Center or Hazelden. But Shohet and his team didn't refer her out.
Whereas Aetna had paid a premium to keep her at Summitridge the first time for months, following the relapse the insurance provider is said to have covered her at its high rate for only a few weeks. Once that rate dropped, sources say One80 transferred her to the even less restrictive Sunset Plaza sober home, despite these sources' concern that Galletta was not at a point in her recovery where she was ready for such a move.
Although Shohet won't speak to the specifics of these cases, he's bewildered by the suggestion that he's driven by profit. "It's the most funny thing in the entire world to me," he says. "I'm completely oriented toward using business for social equality. I spend time with the homeless on a regular basis. I don't give one hoot about money."
After the transfer in January 2012, there would be another relapse by Galletta, involving cocaine and alcohol, followed by a short return to Summitridge. Then back to Sunset Plaza. "I kept telling Alex that she should go to another facility," says the employee who had advocated for more monitored treatment. The requests, say sources, went unheeded by Shohet and Fried. By April, Galletta was dead. Shohet declines to respond to the specific claim that he ignored the recommendation but says generally, "If I was a person who was a witness to some sort of negligence or unethical practice, why wasn't a complaint lodged then?"
Galletta's family, made aware of her fraught final months by a close friend from rehab, considered suing One80 but decided against it. Her sister Joann Mercer tells THR that Galletta insisted on returning to less-restrictive Summitridge. "She would have walked right out of a traditional facility," says Mercer. "She wouldn't have gone to Betty Ford. She felt One80 was a better fit for her."
Hearing this pains the staffers who say they tried to keep Galletta away. They note that, in such severe cases, what the addict wants or thinks is best shouldn't be much of a consideration. "[Her family] could have [placed her in a conservatorship], like Britney Spears, if they had to," says one. "Jean needed to go someplace more boundaried."
A formal complaint lodged Nov. 28, 2012, by a whistle-blowing ex-employee to what was then the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. (As of July 1, in a bid to save money, Gov. Jerry Brown folded the agency into the Department of Health Care Services.) Although sealed, the filing -- dubbed Complaint No. 12-101 -- enumerated many of the allegations in this story as well as a host of others, a source said.
No. 12-101 follows several previous complaints independently filed with the same agency since One80's founding, the most serious of which claimed that unlicensed treatment services like detoxing were being offered at the Wonderland facility, which remains a mere sober-living home. (Shohet has been stymied in his attempt to turn the property into a full-fledged treatment facility by neighbors who have protested to various city agencies over anticipated issues like increased traffic and noise. One80 hired top L.A. law firm Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton -- which also represents The Walt Disney Co. and the TCL Chinese Theatre -- to help smooth things out with the Department of Building and Safety, to no avail.)
DADP launched investigations. All eventually were dismissed. But a review of previously sealed documents, obtained by THR through a California Public Records Act request, reveals the department has shown little if any interest in One80. In the case of the unlicensed services allegation, One80 staffers refused to allow a local DADP field analyst to visit Wonderland in January to determine how the property was being used. Instead of becoming suspicious, the primary Sacramento-based investigator settled for a phone interview with Shohet, who simply denied the charge, according to the report. She apparently took his word for it and made a determination in his favor soon thereafter.
DADP also seemed to deflect queries and grievances pertaining to One80, the file reveals. In a written response to at least one complainant, a complaint analyst explained that its efforts were limited by understaffing (it handles about 300 complaints a year), and thus it had initiated a "screening process that sorts out anything that is redundant, irrelevant or falls outside of our jurisdiction." The approach results in limited oversight by an agency regarded by the rehab facilities and their clientele as a watchdog.
Sober-living homes exist in a void, unregulated by any state agency. This despite luxury-oriented DADP-licensed facilities having gotten into the profitable habit of vertically integrating their pricey sober-living homes into clients' treatment arcs -- to the point where it's almost a standard part of care plans. Clients might not know that the facilities are absolved from responsibility in any real sense as soon as clients have been "stepped down" to sober homes.
Nonetheless, shortly after the Nov. 28, 2012, whistle-blower approached DADP, the department launched a probe into the allegations. They included One80's supposed obstruction of the department's on-site Summitridge inspection two months earlier. A former employee, then still with the facility, claims DADP had been conducting a regular audit to determine whether One80 had violated any rules. But the department forewarned One80 of its arrival by several days, allowing the facility ample time to rectify any problems investigators might find.
DADP's inquiry stemming from the Nov. 28, 2012, complaint has yet to be completed. In the meantime, the department saw fit to grant One80 a second license April 9 for its property on Laurel Canyon. When asked why DADP didn't first wait to hear its own verdict on the initial license, department spokesperson Carol Sloan explained that it needed to strictly adhere to internal protocol, which requires all properly filed licensure paperwork to be completed posthaste. But One80 had submitted its Laurel Canyon application under a different corporate LLC, so the facilities were, DADP admitted to THR, "reviewed independently of one another" anyway.
DADP's investigations into One80's actions have not affected its business. But quiet word-of-mouth apparently has.
Within the past year, multiple sources say the Sunset Plaza fatalities and the controversies at One80's various facilities may have contributed to a steady decline in lucrative cash-client referrals from the city's top tier of addiction therapists and physicians. In an e-mail dated May 27 from Shohet to the One80 staff, Shohet acknowledged "having to do another round of layoffs and shift reductions." He cited overextending the facility with the opening of the Wonderland property, as well as "financial mistakes" of a new and "revolutionary" approach to treatment and "lower than expected" client counts. "Right now, it's pretty much all insurance clients," says someone familiar with One80's present operating situation. Less than three months after receiving its full-fledged treatment center license, the Laurel Canyon facility was shuttered June 30, leaving only Summitridge and Wonderland. Shohet contends he closed Laurel Canyon simply because it's "a very small house on very large grounds," and it wasn't penciling out as the business evolves.
So One80 persists. And, according to its fervent critics, so does the facility's style of care. "The train's still going," says a weary current staffer. "It's still running."