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May 9th, 2014
08:28 PM ET

Ex-patients, families say decades of abuse, fraud at Colorado facility ignored

Denver (CNN) - How did an unlicensed professional, who led people to believe he was a medical doctor, run a facility for adolescents with mental illness and drug abuse problems for decades, despite complaint after complaint to state regulators alleging abuse?

That's the question that haunts some of the alleged victims of an inpatient treatment center that operated in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, for about 30 years.

A CNN investigation uncovered at least 15 civil suits and some two dozen complaints to state regulators against Adolescent and Family Institute of Colorado, also known as AFIC. The allegations include verbal and sexual abuse, unauthorized discontinuance of psychotropic medication and fraud.

The man in charge, AFIC's president and founder, Alexander Panio Jr., was not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist in the state of Colorado, yet he was allegedly treating patients, and participating in and enabling the abuse at his facility.

"It did the most incredible damage to our family," said Rick Palmer, who's filed a civil suit against AFIC, Panio and other staff members.

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