State, county, city investigate Wheat Ridge facility

Posted 5/18/12

State, county and Wheat Ridge officials are investigating complaints of improper activities from four families involving minors at the Adult and …

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State, county, city investigate Wheat Ridge facility


State, county and Wheat Ridge officials are investigating complaints of improper activities from four families involving minors at the Adult and Family Institute of Colorado, which is based in Wheat Ridge.

"We're still in the initial stages of the investigation," said Lt. Dave Pickett, investigator for WRPD. Complaints against AFIC, alleged in two separate lawsuits filed in Jefferson County District Court, include violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, negligence, lack of informed consent and battery, breach of fiduciary duty, unauthorized practice of medicine, fraud, false imprisonment, negligent hiring, retention and supervision.

Denver attorneys Jay Reinan and Jordana Griff-Gingrass, are representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

Alexander Panio Jr., director of AFIC, and Michael Drew, an Englewood attorney representing AFIC, did not respond to attempts by the Wheat Ridge Transcript to contact them. However, Drew said in an earlier statement to The Denver Post that accusations against Panio and AFIC were false and misleading.

The Colorado Department of Human Services released a statement saying the state department is working with the Jefferson County Department of Human Services regarding the claims of abuse in the lawsuits.

"These are serious allegations which will be investigated by the Wheat Ridge Police, the DORA and the DHS," said state Rep. Sue Schafer, D-Wheat Ridge.

The CDHS Division of Behavioral Health received a complaint last year about the facility, which was referred to the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). According to a statement from Cory eVerett-Lozano, interim public information officer for DORA, no information is released about complaints until action is final.

The AFIC is licensed by the CDHS as a psychiatric residential treatment facility and a substance abuse treatment provider.

Aimee Donabedian and her son Christopher first consulted Reinan in December 2011.

"I didn't believe it at first," Reinan said. "It seemed too outrageous."

Reinan filed a lawsuit in January, and a complaint with DORA against AFIC in early February 2012. The complaint was dismissed by DORA without an investigation due to a filing error.

When a story came out in The Denver Post in February about Chris Donabedian's experience at AFIC, more families began contacting Reinan about joining the suit. Reinan said he has been contacted by almost 20 additional families whose children have been treated at AFIC, and told very similar stories of abuse, including information about two adults who were treated during the '90's at the facility, and a girl whose treatment ended two weeks ago.

One of Reinan's clients made a complaint to DORA regarding AFIC and Panio abusing children in October 2010, and it was also dismissed without an investigation.

A second lawsuit was filed in February by Reinan representing Chris Nordstrom, whose son was treated at AFIC. Nordstrom has no contact with his son now, and believes his son's treatment at the facility has something to do with their estrangement.

Allegations have also been made that Panio received his doctorate from a ”diploma mill” called California Coast University. Reinan said Panio had purchased his degree in 1979 for $1,675.

According to Marcy Weiss, of the Feinburg School of Medicine at Northwestern University records department, Panio was on faculty for the department of psychiatry from July 1, 1972, through November 30, 1978.

Additional information about Panio's time at the university is not available because of a computer-system change at the medical school five years ago.


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