Clients of Austintown addiction recovery center caught in middle of court battle as its certificate is revoked

Local News

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A judge has denied a motion by the owner of the California Palms addiction recovery center to delay the state’s efforts to shut the business down.

Mahoning County Judge Maureen Sweeney made the decision on Thursday, denying Sebastian Rucci’s appeal to an order from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to close the facility by the end of the week.

After the decision, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services revoked the certificate for California Palms to offer treatment or bill Medicaid or insurance for service.

Three weeks ago, dozens of state and federal agents raided the business.

At the time, we were told authorities were looking for evidence of possible Medicare fraud and other crimes.

Rucci, who said he has done nothing wrong, had previously argued that the state cannot revoke his license without giving him the chance to correct problems that were discovered.

Within hours of Sweeney’s decision, staff at California Palms were already working to place clients at other centers, but it’s not an easy task.

“I just got off the phone with a different facility here in Youngstown that turned me down because of my medical issues,” said Josh White, a client of California Palms.

“They can go get treatment elsewhere,” said owner Sebastian Rucci. “I can’t give treatment, but I can house them and feed them, which I’m gonna do on my dime.”

Rucci said he’s going to continue to operate the facility as a sober house while he continues his fights in court.

Some of those who stay there, however, are worried about those who will slip through the cracks.

“We’re the ones in the middle of that suffering, man. Out of all of us here today, somebody’s gonna end up dying from an overdose, man,” said Joel Shelton.

“I just pray we don’t have, that we don’t lose anybody else, you know, in the process,” said Chris Cope, another client.

Although California Palms receives no funding from the local Mental Health Board, officials have been reaching out to other treatment centers to help take in displaced clients.

“People can call 211 to get an appropriate referral, and we’ve also offered to provide transportation to a provider,” said Duane Piccirilli, of the Mahoning County Mental Health Board.

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