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2 officials blamed in molester shuffle

A state report says the pair ordered high-risk offenders moved among motels near schools, then lied about it.

November 29, 2006|Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Two top parole administrators ordered a group of high-risk child molesters shuffled among several Los Angeles County motels earlier this year after agents could not find them housing compliant with a new law, the state inspector general reported Tuesday.

The report by Inspector General Matt Cate, a nonpartisan watchdog over the correctional system, said the administrators then lied to investigators and lawmakers, denying any knowledge of the episode.

Moving the 11 parolees among motels near schools in Los Angeles, Pico Rivera, Norwalk, South Gate and El Monte clearly violated the intent of a law barring high-risk child molesters on parole from living within half a mile of a school, Cate said.

It also underscores the challenge facing parole agents under a separate, newly passed law, Proposition 83. Approved overwhelmingly Nov. 7, the ballot measure dramatically expanded housing restrictions for sex offenders, barring them from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school.

A legal dispute over whether the law covers felons convicted before election day is before a federal judge.

Regardless of how that turns out, the measure is already governing where sex offenders released from prison since Nov. 7 may live.

About 350 such offenders return to California neighborhoods each month. Anticipating a shortage of suitable housing for them, corrections officials have been scrambling to prepare an inventory of available apartments, homes and motels. Although it is a parolee's responsibility to find a legal place to live, the state helps -- and in many cases pays for the housing.

"It is in the public's best interest for us to help them," said Bill Sessa of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "That way, they have a foundation for success, and we know where they are."

Sessa said about 80 sex offenders statewide are in noncompliant housing -- within the buffer zone surrounding a school. All of those offenders, he said, are wearing global tracking devices and are under intense supervision.

"This is only temporary, while we work to find more appropriate housing," Sessa said. He added that for Proposition 83 to work as voters expect, "local governments will have to help us place parolees in their community, which is where the parolees came from to begin with."

That suggestion anchors a set of recommendations scheduled to be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in coming days by the state's High-Risk Sex Offender Task Force, according to its chairman, Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange). The panel was created earlier this year after the Los Angeles shuffling was disclosed, and after an outcry erupted over the housing of high-risk sex offenders near Disneyland.

Spitzer said he and other task force members would ask the governor to convene a statewide summit on the question of where California's paroled sex offenders should live.

"The housing issue is the giant void in this whole public policy area, and at this point nobody has good answers," he said. The problem is so severe, Spitzer said, that government may need to build or fund transitional housing for ex-offenders, rather than expect them to blend easily into neighborhoods on their own.

"The bottom line is: Nobody wants to live next door to a sex offender," he said.

But Spitzer said the housing challenge was no excuse for the conduct revealed in the inspector general's report, which he said warranted criminal prosecution.

The report details actions taken by agents and their supervisors under Assembly Bill 113, which created the half-mile buffer zone around schools and became law in January. Unable to find housing for parolees that was outside the buffer zone, parole agents repeatedly asked supervisors for help, the report found.

In response, a mid-level administrator ordered agents to begin moving the parolees from motel to motel every four days, according to the report, and his superior sanctioned the move.

The inspector general said the motive was not clear but may have been an attempt to buy the agents time to find suitable housing. The shuffling also allowed the parolees to be declared "transient" and avoid registering with local law enforcement every time they moved to a new location.

"These are sworn peace officers, deliberately moving these parolees around and then engaging in a conspiracy to cover it up," Spitzer said. "There's no evidence any crimes were committed by these parolees, but we'll never know, because sex offenses so often go unreported."

Sessa, the corrections spokesman, said one of the parole administrators named in the report has been demoted and one has not. He said officials were reviewing the report to determine what personnel action, if any, was warranted.

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jenifer.warren@latimes.com

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