exposing the dark side of adoption
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Author: Julie Poppen, Rocky Mountain News

A 59-year-old Denver man and former foster parent to at least 42 children is being accused by an adopted daughter of sexual assault, police said Friday.

The police and county human services investigators are trying to locate and interview some of the foster children who have also lived with Joe Lujan.

As of Friday afternoon no one else had claimed abuse.

Lujan, who lives in southwest Denver with his wife, was arrested Wednesday in connection with a felony charge of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.

"Of course we are always alarmed when any kind of accusations are made," said Roxane White, manager of the Denver Department of Human Services. "Our goal is to help children be safe. We have made certain there are no children in this home."

Many children from several counties were placed in the Lujan home over the past five or six years through Maple Star Colorado, a private placement agency that contracts with the state.

Maple Star Colorado Executive Director Debi Grebenik said ties were severed with Lujan in February. She would not say why. The agency contracts with 83 parents across Colorado and places juveniles from many counties.

"Maple Star is well-known and well-respected for the work they do in this area," White said.

The private agencies screen potential foster care families and make placements. There are about 60 such private agencies operating statewide, officials said.

Mary McGhee, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, said the state would now evaluate Maple Star Colorado through its 24-hour monitoring unit.

"When something of this nature does happen, we do lots of things to follow up and see what happened and try to make sure it doesn't happen in the future," McGhee said. "Were there things the (agency) could or should have done that somehow contributed to this issue? We don't have any of that information at this point."

Police said the female victim in this case told an extended family member she had been assaulted. County officials said the girl was removed from the home in September, which launched the felony criminal probe.

Police took Lujan into custody Wednesday. He remains in jail and is expected to face charges early next week.

"It's something of course that concerns us," police Detective Virginia Lopez said. "In addition to children who went through the home as foster children, you also have neighborhood children who live in the area of a potential predator."

But neighbor Josie Marchesi said Lujan has been nothing but a wonderful asset to the neighborhood. She said the Lujans helped her through a bout of breast cancer and have helped her with many daily tasks since her husband died last spring.

"He's a good man," Marchesi said. "He'll give you anything - the shirt off his back."

Marchesi said the girl in question was about 13 and that she was adopted within the past year.

"He mowed my lawn, he helps the lady across the street, they donate time and serve food for kids at the YMCA," Marchesi said. "He worked hard and took good care of those foster kids."

Anyone with information should call Denver police at 720-913-6050.

2004 Nov 6