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The State | COLUMN ONE

On his block, a molester

Fliers and signs bring the unsettling reality home. Some neighbors want to drive the polite ex-con away, but a father needs to hear him out.

December 05, 2006|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

MY neighbor was a child molester.

I know because of the signs.

Michael Miletti's face, name and address appear on posters lining Wapello Street in Altadena, with the admonishment: "Leave Our Neighborhood Now Child Molester." Up since May, the signs are staked into lawns, taped to trash cans and nailed to tree trunks.

I live around the corner with my wife and 7-year-old daughter. Suddenly, an issue that had seemed abstract became deeply personal.

These days, convicted sex offenders can't hide. A state website lists 63,000 of them, searchable by name, address or ZIP Code.

The site, which includes child molesters and offenders whose victims were adults, evolved from the passage of Megan's Law a decade ago. Sex offenders must register their current addresses,something they wouldn't have to do if they had been convicted of dealing drugs, or even killing a person.

The database is meant to give parents, especially, information that will help them protect their children. But as my neighborhood shows, it can also open residents to fears and resentments they previously never had to confront. For some of them, there was only one solution: They would try to drive a neighbor away.


IT started in April with an anonymous mailer sent to houses on Wapello. The fliers pictured Miletti, 53, above the words "Registered Sex Offender Movement Alert."

Miletti had arrived a year earlier after marrying a widow who had lived for several years in a spacious Mediterranean house. Neighbors knew him mainly as a polite man who chatted with them while walking his two sheepdogs, Roy and Fiona.

After the mailer arrived, someone on the block checked out Miletti's court record. It showed that Miletti's 16-year-old daughter had turned him in to the police in 1993.

Miletti admitted repeatedly abusing his daughter -- police said she was first molested at age 6 or 7 -- and served three years in state prison.

Horrified, some residents began placing signs in an effort to warn others -- and perhaps to drive Miletti out.

"We want to ostracize him," said William Tell, 62, a retired businessman who lives across the street from Miletti.

My interest in the campaign against Miletti grew in the fall, when I did some reporting on Proposition 83, the ballot measure barring sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks and schools and requiring them to be tracked by satellite for life.

A few weeks before the election, I interviewed Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who expressed deep reservations about parts of the measure, including the residency restrictions and the high cost of global positioning system monitoring. "What documentation is there that this works at all?" he asked. "There hasn't been enough introspection."

Nevertheless, Cooley was officially a supporter of Proposition 83. He refused to say why, but politicians and consultants I spoke with explained it would be political suicide to be against such a measure -- candidates would be ruthlessly attacked as friendly to child molesters, they said.

The lone district attorney I interviewed who spoke publicly against the measure was one with a safe seat: San Mateo's James P. Fox. He said he personally thought the 2,000-foot rule is "a bunch of silliness." It "would give people a false sense of security," he said. "The vast majority of child molesters are not strangers; they are family members or family friends."

Miletti lives 850 feet from Farnsworth Park, a sprawling complex of playing fields, courts and a playground frequented by children, including my own. Proposition 83 passed overwhelmingly; several neighbors said they voted for it, expecting that Miletti would be forced out of the neighborhood. Both the attorney general and the proposition's authors say ex-convicts can stay put. But it has yet to be decided whether the restrictions will apply to past sex offenders if they move. A federal judge will take up the matter in February.

More than 30 houses line Miletti's block, and most of them have signs calling for him to leave. One of the homes at the end of the block belongs to Erik Hargrave, 40. He recalled the day he and his wife received the mailer. It came on his daughter's second birthday. His wife, who had recently given birth to their second child, burst into tears.

Hargrave and about a dozen neighbors met at Farnsworth Park's Greek-style amphitheater. There was anxiety over having a sex offender on a block with so many young children. They also discussed the potential effect his presence could have on property values and decided both to post the signs and create an e-mail distribution list.

Another of the anti-Miletti organizers, Joseph Llorens, the father of a 12-year-old boy, lives across the street from Hargrave. A manager for a utility company, Llorens, 44, had actually been a friend of Miletti's wife; he had joined her and her then-husband for Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago.

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