June 22, 2011

Sex offenders lived in Fort Lauderdale motel; city law left few other options

6-22-2011 Florida:

FORT LAUDERDALE—A motel known for touting its heart-shaped Jacuzzi for years quietly housed dozens of registered sex offenders and predators.

The Budget Inn on North Federal Highway was one of the few housing options for sex offenders in the city. That is, until the motel's owner learned of the tenants' criminal records this past week and evicted them.

On Friday, 24 offenders were listed on the state's sex offender registry as living at the 50-room motel just south of Oakland Park Boulevard.

Now, most of the offenders who had been staying there are struggling to find a new place to live. They may wind up homeless, highlighting a growing problem in South Florida: Municipal laws have so restricted where offenders can live that many have become homeless or drifters — which makes it harder for law enforcement to keep an eye on them.

"The laws have created this quandary that undermines their very purpose," said Jill Levenson, a clinical social worker studying sex offender issues at Lynn University. "The laws really have to be re-considered."

The motel's owner, Glen Patel, said Monday he was shocked to learn some of his tenants were sex offenders when informed by the Sun Sentinel.

"For the safety of my [other] guests, I can't keep them there," he said.

On a recent night at the motel, several guests said they, too, were alarmed to learn their neighbors were sex offenders. Among the guests staying there last week was a family with two young children.

Patel said state probation officers asked him over the weekend to reconsider evicting the sex offenders because, at least at the motel, the officers knew where they were.

Not to mention, at the motel, the offenders were living in a commercial district, alongside a Best Buy and across the street from a McDonald's — as opposed to being smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

State records show at least 36 other offenders have reported staying at the motel since 2007. The offenders' crimes ranged from attempting to solicit a child over the Internet to child pornography, child molestation, kidnapping and sexual battery of a child. Some were repeat offenders.

Fort Lauderdale and other cities enacted stringent sex offender residency laws after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford was raped and murdered in 2005 by a sex offender who lived in her Central Florida neighborhood.

Under state law, people convicted of certain sex crimes involving children can't reside within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, day-care centers and public school bus stops.

Many cities in South Florida extended the zones even farther, up to 2,500 feet. Fort Lauderdale has a 1,400-foot radius.

Fort Lauderdale's ordinance leaves only about 10 percent of the city open for sex offenders, offering few rentals.

When offenders find a rare landlord or motel manager willing to take them, they move in by the drove, forming what authorities term a sex offender "cluster," which is what happened at the Budget Inn.

Probation officers can't order the sex offenders to split up and move, said Thomas Sharrard, a state probation supervisor for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.

"We can only enforce what is in their [court-ordered] conditions, and if there is not a condition that says you cannot live with another sex offender, we can't do anything," Sharrard said. "And if you were to kick them out, then the problem becomes: where do you send them?"

In Palm Beach County, about 50 offenders are registered in the Miracle Park community outside of Pahokee. That location, operated by a ministry, was developed to house offenders. ..Source.. by Sofia Santana and Dana Williams, Sun Sentinel

1 comment:

Garth Nader said...

No doubt with all of that traffic there will be an investigation into the owner.