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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Doctor Sued Over Teen’s Suicide Attempt

DENVER (CN) - "Abusive, fraudulent and harmful" treatment at a clinic run by a man who bought a doctorate from an "unaccredited diploma mill" led a teenager to attempt suicide, the boy and his parents claim in Federal Court.

Sally and Shawn James sued lead defendants Alexander Panio Jr. and his Adolescent and Family Institute of Colorado (AFIC), on behalf of their son Taylor, in Federal Court. Taylor James turned 18 in July.

The 41-page complaint contains a laundry list of alarming allegations against Panio and his clinic in Wheat Ridge, Colo. - including that when Taylor threatened to commit suicide, an AFIC employee told his mom to let him go ahead and try it.

"Panio has been defrauding the world at large in regard to his academic background and credentials for decades. As early as 1970, before he purchased his Ph.D. certificate, Panio referred to himself as 'Dr. Panio' and expected others to address him that way. Panio also occasionally fraudulently used an 'MD' suffix to give others the appearance that he had a medical degree," the complaint states.

It adds: "Panio refers to himself exclusively as 'Doctor' or 'Dr. Panio.' Panio makes patients and staff refer to him as 'Doctor' or 'Dr. Panio,' even though he is not a doctor, did not go to medical school, did not go to psychology school, is not licensed and has a Ph.D. from an unaccredited diploma mill.

"The diploma mill was California Western University, which is now defunct. Panio purchased this fraudulent Ph.D. to further bolster his scheme to defraud and deceive his patients and their insurance providers.

"At the time Panio purchased his Ph.D. certificate, California Western University was not accredited by any accrediting organization and provided degrees in exchange for money and 'life experience.'

"Panio did not undergo the kinds of rigorous education, class attendance, participation, internships, training, testing, dissertation work or licensure required of real PhD recipients or clinical psychologists under C.R.S. § 12-43-301 et seq."

The James family also sued Panio's wife, Mary Panio, who allegedly runs the clinic with him; Dr. Edra Weiss, AFIC's medical director, who treated Taylor; a registered nurse who "acted as Taylor's psychiatric provider at AFIC;" Jeffrey Nelson, a licensed professional counselor and AFIC's director of therapy; Scott Juarez, a licensed professional counselor who was Taylor's primary therapist at AFIC; and Jane Jordan, a licensed practical nurse.

The Jameses claim that Panio and AFIC misrepresent themselves on AFIC's Internet home page, which claims to have "board-certified psychiatrists" and "doctoral-level therapists" that do not exist.

"AFIC does not have any board certified psychiatrists on staff or in a consulting or supervising role," the complaint states.

"All of AFIC's 'psychiatric' care is provided by a nurse, defendant Olson, and upon the directions of the unlicensed Panio," it states.


The family claims that the care rendered by the Family Institute is "abusive, fraudulent, and harmful" to its patients, and that Panio and his agents "use high-pressure sales tactics, including advising families, inter alia: a) If the troubled teen is not immediately admitted to AFIC for residential that he or she will die or go to prison ... c) AFIC is unique in its approach and has a success rate of over 80 percent ... e) The troubled child's problems are caused by the parents, who can no longer handle the child and also need AFIC's help; and f) The immediate admission to AFIC is a life or death decision that must be made there and now."

The family says that a psychiatrist diagnosed Taylor with a mood disorder and Asperger's Syndrome when he was in sixth grade. He also suffered from depression, and his "psychiatrists prescribed psychotropic medications to treat his psychiatric

Symptoms," the complaint states.

It adds: "The James family was referred to AFIC by United Healthcare," which is not a party to the case.

"During the intake therapy session, Panio told the James family that he was a doctor. He spent considerable time boasting about his degrees and his background and specifically told the James family that he had worked for former First Lady, Mrs. Carter," the complaint states.

"During the course of this initial therapy session, Panio also told the James family that Taylor James had been misdiagnosed by prior doctors and that Taylor James did not have bipolar disorder or Asperger's, but rather he had Borderline Personality Disorder. ...

"During this session, Panio insulted and humiliated Mr. and Mrs. James, telling them that they were terrible parents, in front of their son. Panio remarked that they had been taking Taylor James to therapists that weren't working. Panio assured them that he and AFIC would make it work for the James family and were the only facility capable of doing so.

"Upon admission, Panio ordered Taylor be taken off of all of his medications. Upon information and belief, this order was carried out by defendant Olson without appropriate medical or psychiatric consultation and without sufficient information or basis.

"Taylor James's medications were stopped abruptly without tapering. As a result, he became sick, sweaty, shaky and experienced symptoms of withdrawal as well as psychiatric symptoms.

"Shortly after admission to AFIC, Taylor was taken by defendants Weiss and Jordan for a genital examination.

"Taylor's penis and scrotum were examined by these defendants. They also measured his penis. This examination was conducted without informed consent and for no reasonable medical purpose."

Then Panio and his staff told Taylor and his parents that he did not have bipolar disorder or Asperger's but he was "simply making symptoms up, was attention-seeking and manipulating his parents," according to the complaint.

"Despite AFIC and Panio's discussions about Taylor's made up symptoms and manipulative behavior, Panio told Mr. and Mrs. James that in order for the James' insurance company to cover Taylor's stay, AFIC would have to document Taylor as being more ill than he actually was.

"Panio further asked the James family to lie about the nature and extent of Taylor's drug use in order for him to 'look worse on paper' so that insurance would cover his stay at AFIC. The James family refused to lie about these issues.

"Upon information and belief, Panio and other AFIC agents caused false and fraudulent paperwork to be sent through the U.S. mail to plaintiffs' insurance company, United, in order to secure payment for Taylor's stay at AFIC.

"At the same time, AFIC staff tried to convince Taylor James that his parents were incompetent parents who were responsible for his problems. AFIC staff referred to Mrs. James as a 'bitch' to Taylor.

"AFIC staff and therapists, including Panio and defendant Nelson, repeatedly called Taylor outrageous and demeaning names and slurs. Defendant Nelson repeatedly referred to Taylor as a 'faggot,' and a 'cum dumpster.' Panio also called Taylor a 'faggot' and a 'cum dumpster.'

"Defendant Nelson, who was a Therapy Director at AFIC at the time and also Taylor James's primary therapist, also ridiculed Taylor for his weight issues, repeatedly referring to his 'man boobs.'

Defendant Juarez and defendant Panio told Mr. and Mrs. James that Taylor was going to become a male prostitute if he didn't stay for additional treatment when the insurance denied it.

"AFIC staff further convinced Mr. and Mrs. James that in order for Taylor to get better, Mr. and Mrs. James would have to throw away most or nearly all of his favorite clothing, which they did.

"All of this outrageous conduct and divisiveness, as well as the abrupt cessation of psychotropic medications, caused Taylor to become more depressed.

"Shortly after his discharge from AFIC, Taylor expressed to his mother that he was having suicidal thoughts from what had happened at AFIC. Mrs. James called AFIC in a panic and talked to defendant Juarez.

She told Defendant Juarez that Taylor was threatening to commit suicide;

specifically, that he was going to take pills and drink nail polish remover.

"Defendant Juarez advised Mrs. James that Taylor was only threatening and that he would not go through with it. In any case, defendant Juarez advised Mrs. James not to try to stop any suicide attempt because that would only further encourage Taylor's attention-seeking and manipulative behavior and enable him further. She was told to let him take the pills if that was what he was going to do, let him learn a lesson, and then call an ambulance.

"Taylor did attempt to overdose on pills and ingested nail polish remover. Mrs. James took him to the emergency room at Platte Valley Hospital where they pumped his stomach and transported him to The Children's Hospital, where he was admitted for a one-month stay. During that time, Taylor initially refused to go back on his medications because his therapists at AFIC had convinced him that he did not have a psychiatric diagnosis and that he did not need medications.

"Ultimately, Taylor was stabilized on his medications and has continued to receive ongoing treatment for his issues.

"Defendants were paid many thousands of dollars by and on behalf of plaintiffs."

The Jameses claim that Colorado has received numerous complaints against Panio and AFIC, since at least 1998, including falsely advertising his credentials and diagnosing and treating patients without a license.

The family seeks punitive damages for RICO violations, fraud, conspiracy, unauthorized practice of medicine, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and consumer law violations.

They are represented by Jerome Reinan of Denver.

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