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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.

“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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.”

The new Beverly Hills Hotel pool and cabana area looks a lot like the classic one. “Every aspect of our restoration pays homage to our past,” says Edward Mady, hotel general manager and West Coast regional director for The Dorchester Collection, which now owns the property. “We actually have more of the hotel’s iconic pink and green colors at the pool.” No changes were made to the pool itself. “That would be sacrilegious,” says renowned designer Adam Tihany, who was responsible for the refresh.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 16, 2013 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.