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A CRUMBLING FOUNDATION

THE DOCTOR'S IN JAIL AND MOST BOARDMEMBERS HAVE QUIT--BUT BILL COORS VOWS TO PRESS ON.

When the patriarchs of two of Colorado's most powerful families joined forces over two years ago, it wasn't for another megamillion-dollar business deal, or a shared sinecure on a corporate board, or even one of those glittering charity events. It was disease that brought Chuck Stevinson and Bill Coors together.

The two men--whose families' combined wealth in car lots, factories and real estate soars into the hundreds of millions--found they both were intrigued by the deadly blips in the body's immune system that have puzzled physicians and scientists for more than a decade. Their interest was intensely personal.

Chuck Stevinson was the first to receive bad news. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer-related blood disease in the late 1970s; by 1987 his doctors gave him only months to live. Through a friend, he learned of a Yugoslavian physician practicing an unorthodox brand of medicine that paid especially close attention to the patient's own self-defense force, the immune system. Desperate, Stevinson contacted Rajko Medenica.

Stevinson became obsessed with the minutiae of his disease. But he also had a broader vision, and he was fascinated by the promise that Medenica's nontraditional treatments could hold for others. "It was like a third career for my father," says Scott Stevinson, one of his sons. Before the car-and-real-estate magnate died in February, he'd credited Medenica with prolonging his life by nearly a decade.

Bill Coors had a long-standing professional interest in health-related issues; he started a wellness center at the Coors Brewery in Golden well before such preventive clinics were standard. But like Stevinson's, his passionate involvement with disease had become intimate. Three years ago, Coors discovered his eyes were losing their ability to see colors. Stevinson, a close friend and business colleague, referred Coors to Medenica. Coors says the doctor reversed the deterioration, and since then Medenica also has treated him for prostate problems. "I hold myself out" as an example of Medenica's genius, he says.

Intrigued by the idea of sharing their personal physician with the world, Stevinson and Coors decided to set up an organization that would permit Medenica to prove his medical miracles through rigorous research. Although Coors lent the family name to the project, it was clear from the beginning that it was a two-man endeavor--Bill Coors's and Chuck Stevinson's gift to science.

Through the Adolph Coors Foundation, the family's philanthropic arm, Bill Coors infused the newly formed Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation with millions of dollars; tax records show the Coors family foundation gave more than $1 million in 1994 alone. Stevinson donated space in his family's Denver West complex outside of Golden and guided the medical foundation through its first months until he became too sick to continue.

By spring 1995, the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation appeared to be well on its way. In May it hired Medenica, promising to fund the doctor's research efforts into alternative treatments for immunological disorders. Bill Coors began negotiating with the AMC Cancer Research Center to buy one of its Lakewood buildings, a fully furnished twenty-bed hospital, where Medenica would treat patients and conduct his studies. For his part, Medenica showed his commitment by purchasing a $750,000, Spanish-style compound in the foothills.

Since this summer, however, the foundation has come apart at the seams. And recently it's unraveled at a spectacular rate.

The first stitch blew in August, when Medenica was arrested in Europe. Yet even before he was taken into custody by Interpol, accusations had surfaced in Medenica's South Carolina lab that the doctor was embellishing the AIDS research he'd done for the Coors foundation.

All but two of the foundation's seven boardmembers--its paid administrator and Bill Coors himself--have bailed out over the past few months. The reason, sources say, is that the executives were reluctant to become tangled in a financial scandal that threatens to consume the foundation.

Coors claims that in its short life, his foundation has made great strides, particularly in AIDS research. He also says that he is firmly committed to continuing it. But he concedes that for now the organization is out of money and on hold.

Certainly bad luck played a part in the disintegration of the Adolph Coors Medical Research Foundation. Yet sources also cite another reason: the reluctance--or the inability--of two savvy, successful businessmen in the twilight of their careers to apply their accumulated professional acumen to such a personal project.

"This was a brilliant screenplay," one source says. "But the casting directors did a lousy job."

For a man so focused on disease, Bill Coors looks remarkably healthy. He has clear blue eyes and a long patrician face that, when he is distracted, can appear exhausted. He is tieless and wears a loosely buttoned blue oxford shirt and shoes whose soles are scraped raw. His Denver-facing office, all dark wood and brass fixtures, is flooded with sunlight. A glass bookshelf above and behind his executive-sized desk includes copies of The Living Bible and Toxic Terror.

Coors stands behind his doctor. "The man is the medical genius of all times," he says of Medenica. "It is absolutely incredible how far ahead he is in his thinking. Ten years from now, what this man has done will make him a hero."

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