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Wheatfield drug rehab workers charged with having sex with patients

LOCKPORT – Two women who formerly worked at a substance abuse rehabilitation program in Wheatfield have been charged with having sex with male patients.

Candace Seelbinder, 35, of Niagara Falls, and Jessica Griffin, 38, of Tonawanda, were indicted by a Niagara County grand jury on charges of rape, sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.

Seelbinder was a licensed practical nurse, and Griffin was an alcoholism and substance abuse counselor, at First Step, an inpatient facility operated by Northpointe Council. Both were fired after the charges were lodged by the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, a state agency.

They pleaded not guilty at arraignments last week and appeared in Niagara County Court Wednesday with their attorneys. Dominic Saraceno was retained to represent Griffin, and Brian J. Hutchison was assigned to represent Seelbinder.

Wednesday, Hutchison convinced Judge Sara Sheldon to reduce Seelbinder’s bail from $15,000, which had kept her in jail since arraignment last week, to $5,000.

Assistant Special Prosecutor Mary Jean Bowman said Seelbinder was a flight risk. But Hutchison said during the investigation, Seelbinder, a mother of three, went to Alabama to see her fiance, who is in prison there, and returned knowing she might soon be arrested.

Judge Matthew J. Murphy III is hearing the case against Griffin, who is free on $5,000 bail.

Seelbinder is accused of having sex with two men, one of whom Griffin also allegedly had sex with, in separate incidents on Feb. 28 and March 8. Under state law, patients in substance abuse rehab facilities are deemed legally unable to consent to sex, making the alleged incidents statutory rape in the eyes of the law.

Seelbinder is charged with two counts each of third-degree rape, second-degree sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Griffin is charged with third-degree rape, third-degree criminal sexual act, second-degree sexual abuse and two counts of sexual misconduct.