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State can't find 467 sex offenders

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone looks at the

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone looks at the mugshots of eight recently re-arrested sex offenders, during a press conference at Yaphank Police Headquarters. The sex offenders were arrested for not following their conditions of release. (May. 23, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.

New York State has lost track of 467 convicted sex offenders, including rapists and child molesters, despite a law requiring them to register annually for inclusion in the Megan's Law database.

At least 15 sex offenders whose whereabouts are listed as "unknown" by the state's Division of Criminal Justice Services, which is responsible for maintaining the Sex Offender Registry, had their last known addresses on Long Island, where a total of 1,523 offenders are registered. Statewide, authorities have obtained arrest warrants for 200 of the offenders, records show.

"We've established a law that requires society's most cunning of criminals to register on an honor system, and that's what is leading to them disappearing," said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center, a Stony Brook-based nonprofit organization that advocates for sex offender victims and works to find addresses for missing offenders. "For their victims, it's terrifying to know the offender who victimized them is nowhere to be found."

Of Long Island's 15 offenders listed as "unknown," at least three last provided addresses in Nassau and 12 in Suffolk, records show. But among the hundreds of offenders who failed to register in other parts of the state, some may have made their way to Long Island or New York City, officials said.

A Newsday analysis of DCJS records shows the missing offenders make up a small percentage of the 36,410 overall sex offenders statewide. Some of those ex-convicts have been missing for a year or more, according to records.

 

Offenders checking in

New York's sex offender database, like those in other states, is dependent on whether sex offenders actually check in with the state -- and whether law enforcement agencies verify the addresses offenders give to the state. Under state law, authorities are not required to personally verify all offender addresses.

The state finds out a sex offender's whereabouts is unknown once that person fails to check in with the state registry on the person's designated annual registration date. The DCJS then notifies the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in the offender's last known address.

Suffolk County Deputy Police Chief Kevin Fallon said his department has partnered with Parents for Megan's Law to verify sex offenders' addresses. He said there are active warrants in place for the 12 "unknown" people whose last addresses were in Suffolk. Nassau County police said they have no open warrants for offenders who have failed to register. A police spokeswoman declined to comment further.

Of the statewide offenders whose whereabouts are listed as unknown, according to state records:

161 are classified as Level 1 offenders, meaning authorities have deemed their risk of reoffending as "low" based on the crimes they committed, their level of rehabilitation and other factors.

171 are Level 2 offenders, with a "moderate" risk of reoffending.

112 are Level 3 offenders, deemed to have a "high" risk of reoffending.

The records show that the risk of reoffending for the remaining 23 has not been determined.

Failure to annually update home addresses with the state registry is a felony under state law, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Offenders must notify the registry within 10 days of moving. Once an offender violates that law, Janine Kava, DCJS's spokeswoman said, the state sends alerts to the law enforcement agency that originally arrested him or her, or the agency that has jurisdiction at their last known address.

"Offenders who are 'counted' in the unknown category have not complied with the requirement under law to notify the registry of their residence address," Kava said. Their locations are not currently known, she said.

 

Alerts sent out

The registry "urges" agencies to seek warrants for the offender's arrest if they can't be located, Kava said, and refers cases to the U.S. Marshals Service.

DCJS does not actually go out and look for offenders whose whereabouts are unknown, Kava said, nor can it force any law enforcement agency to do so.

The agency touts its sex offender registry as a valuable tool for the public and law enforcement. It announced this month that more photographs of offenders would be posted in its database to help people recognize them.

"The registry is proactive in its efforts to ensure information is current," Kava said.

Victim advocates and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who has secured federal funding for community-based offender verification programs, said the number of offenders whose whereabouts are unknown is far too high.

"New Yorkers deserve much better than this, and the state needs to investigate it and solve it now," Israel said. "We need to ensure that our children are safe from those who could potentially harm them and that victims of past crimes aren't plagued by not knowing the whereabouts of their attackers and abusers."

 

Federal Megan's Law

Megan's Law, a federal law named after Megan Kanka, 7, of New Jersey, who was raped and killed by a neighbor in 1994, requires convicted sex offenders to be registered with the government, making it easier to track their whereabouts.

Their names are put into databases in every state, allowing the public to do an online check to determine where offenders reside. The federal law requires that convicted sex offenders update their addresses with the state at least once a year. (New York's site is at www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor.)

All states have sex offenders whose whereabouts are listed as unknown, records show, although no agency tracks the overall national number.

"The state of New York and every other state in which sex offenders' whereabouts are unknown should put more pressure on law enforcement agencies to secure and enforce arrest warrants," said Jeremy Reiner, a lawyer, crime victim advocate and victim counselor in Riverhead. "It's a matter of law enforcement making this a priority."

Law enforcement officials also said agencies across the state must work closely to catch offenders who have crossed jurisdictional boundaries.

"It's a real problem, and it's not easy to get a handle on," said one Long Island police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue. "These people can drop off the grid very easily, and they might not be caught until and unless they reoffend."

In addition, officials said, some of these agencies have faced budget cuts and do not always prioritize finding missing sex offenders.

For one parent of a sex abuse victim, the number of unknown is frightening.

"These people missing across the state could be anywhere by now," said Joan Morrison-Brown of Garden City, an advocate for more rigorous sex offender tracking, whose daughter was sexually assaulted in Queens in 2002.

"This is a clear indication the system we rely on to keep tabs on these offenders is flawed."

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Jeremy Reiner and Joan Morrison-Brown. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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