13 December 2013

Another Black Eye for Arizona

 By Dixon Hill






I love Arizona... 

























I love the wide-open spaces (We've still got ‘em, though they grow fewer and farther between every day!), the dusty desert terrain dotted by Saguaro (“Su – whar – ro”), Prickly Pear and Cholla (Cho – ya) cactus, the scrub plants you encounter as you work your way north, the rough rocky face of the Mogollon (“Moo - gee – on” and that middle syllable is pronounced with a hard “g” sound) Rim, even the high country with its Ponderosa and Kaibab Pines. Not to mention all the prairie dogs, squirrels and coyotes.

 The warp and woof of Arizona life is filled with Mexican, American Indian and Spanish influences. They mold our architecture, our language, even the way we get our water and eat our meals.

 When I was a kid, we found an old wagon wheel out in the middle of nowhere, while on a picnic. Stuff like that dotted the empty desert back then, including rare rotting wagons, or long-abandoned and unmapped Indian ruins that I ran across at times. Somebody had probably lost that wagon wheel while crossing the desert back in the 18-who-knows-when, heading for a better life in who-knows-where. We loaded it in the trunk and my mom had my dad lean it against a tree in our backyard. When our pool was put in, that wagon wheel got cemented—center stage—into the planter that jutted abruptly from the pool’s back wall.
 Today, only the rusted rim remains.

Soutwestern Black Eye 

These days, Arizona gets a bad rap from a lot of folks. Sometimes because it’s deserved. Other times, because of misunderstandings or imbalanced reporting. 

This past July I learned that two guys in Paradise Valley have evidently come up with a way to give Arizona another black eye. It looks like they’re scamming money off people across the nation, using information they find in official law enforcement sex offender data lists.

 For those who don’t know, Paradise Valley is a suburb of the Phoenix Metro area. PV as it’s commonly known, was planned as a bedroom community for upper-income families. Community planners stipulated, for instance, that a built-in swimming pool had to sit at least twenty-one feet from the property line. They did this to encourage the construction of expensive houses on large lots. And, it worked. They also made it illegal to set up a business—even a gas station—except in very limited areas.

 This doesn't seem to have kept two guys from running an internet business out their house, however. According to an Arizona Republic article by Robert Anglen:

 A network of Arizona-based Internet companies is mining data from sex-offender sites maintained by law-enforcement agencies and using it to demand money and harass those who complain or refuse to pay.

The websites in question are evidently run by two men who have both been convicted on fraud charges in the past. They obtain their information from sex offender data lists published by law enforcement agencies, however their site is not associated with any state or federal agency or law enforcement branch.

 Now, I can hear some of you thinking, “They’re convicted sex offenders; they probably deserve it!” But, the people being scammed aren’t necessarily sex offenders at all. According to the article:

 Among the hundreds of thousands of names that appear, the websites include names and addresses of people who never have been arrested or convicted of a sex crime.

The Internet-savvy operators … have prominently profiled specific individuals, published their home and e-mail addresses, posted photographs of their relatives and copied their Facebook friends onto the offender websites.

“Enjoy the exposure you have created for yourself,” operators said in an e-mail to an offender last year. “Unfortunately you took (your) family with you.”

In Virginia, a man last year stumbled onto (the) profile of his recently deceased brother-in-law. He said he contacted the website in an effort to spare his sister and her two young daughters from learning about the 18-year-old conviction. But when he said he balked at paying, the websites posted his name and e-mail. They also posted his sister’s address, her name and the names of her children, in-laws and other relatives.

 Not enough to convince you? How about this one: A Louisiana schoolteacher, whose only “crime” was buying a house once owned by a sex offender (whose name had been removed from all official registries before she bought the house), found herself caught up in the websites’ snare. “Even after being notified that the offender no longer lived in the house and being paid to remove the profile,” the Republic article states, “(the websites) continued publishing the woman’s address as if the sex offender still resided there.”

That’s right: she’s a teacher. She had no connection to the sex offender in question, except that she happened to buy a house he once lived in. Fearing the website might convince people she was associated with a convicted sex offender—something that could ruin her career—she paid them to remove her address from the website. But, they kept it up anyway. And, the people running these websites are charging people between $79 and $499 to have their names removed.

 Is This Legal? 

The Arizona Department of Public Safety runs an official state registry at azsexoffender.org. Their site states: “misuse of this information may result in criminal prosecution.” Surely this is the case with other agency’s registries, also. 

Yet, though people claim to have complained to attorneys general not only in Arizona, but also in Washington, Virginia, Montana and Louisiana, no law enforcement agencies seem to have taken any action.

Hasn't Anybody Called the Cops? 

That’s what I wondered, and according to the Republic article:

Complaints about … the … websites have been filed with local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies for almost a year. Offenders, their relatives and others who say they have been targeted by the websites say officials won’t act. They say agencies take reports, then decline to open investigations or refer cases elsewhere.

Complaints have been submitted with the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which works with the FBI to refer Internet criminal cases to various agencies.

One offender said federal prosecutors in Virginia told him they would not open a case.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Virginia would comment. FBI officials in Arizona also declined comment.

Complaints have also been submitted with attorneys general in at least five states, including Arizona.

 One convicted sex offender was quoted as saying: “They don’t take action because of who we are: sex offenders. But we deserve equal protection under the law.”

 Maybe that statement doesn't resonate with you. But, no matter how little pity you feel for sex offenders (and, frankly, I find it hard to pity them), surely their families and friends—or people who buy houses from them!—deserve to be protected from these websites.

See you in two weeks,
--Dixon

15 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

My sense of fairness is irritated by post-conviction treatment of sexual offenders. If it were any other group we’d say they were being bullied, but this is the one group it’s okay to maltreat, even after they’ve done the time– if there was crime. The unsupported talk-show claims they can’t be psychiatrically treated don’t help in this age of hysteria.

I’m revisiting the topic again. Days ago I found out an acquaintance just spent a year in jail. He’d been playing with kids and pinched a kid’s bottom. No groping, no fondling, no sexual playing, but roughhousing with kids and the mother went ballistic. He’s now permanently branded a sexual predator. He’s not allowed to live in his own home; in fact, he’s not allowed to live in his county: The laws are so constructed to prevent anyone convicted of a sex crime from living there. Murderers and terrorists, fine, but not ‘perverts’.

He paid a lawyer $25,000 to defend him who apparently did nothing– no statements, no depositions, no polygraphs, no investigation. When a mutual friend belatedly took over the case, he was aghast at the legal shambles, but the damage has been done.

How many have been convicted because of angry spouses or 5- and 6-year-old boys kissing a girl in school? Just happened again a few days ago, police called when a 6-year-old kissed a girl’s hand. Even the Wall Street Journal thought it ridiculous.

Sometimes darker motives are involved. I was shocked when a teacher’s friends advised her to accuse her husband (a community pillar) of molesting their daughter to gain leverage in planning her divorce.

When I was a 15-year-old kid, my parents told me I wouldn’t be allowed to work at the local drive-in theatre. It would be a couple more years before I learned why, but looking back, I respect the restraint and vigilance parents used to recognize a problem and deal with it calmly without ruining anyone’s life.

By the way, is that photo of the cacti one of yours?

Fran Rizer said...

Dixon, I agree with you and Leigh about the need for prosecution of these tormentors, but I want to address the other side of the picture for the real child molesters.
Thirty years ago, I was at a friend's house when her ten-year-old daughter came in from a picnic with her "Uncle Joe" and a bunch of the neighborhood kids. Her shirt was on inside-out. "Uncle Joe" went to jail after the police discovered a full photography lab where he processed child pornography of himself and neighborhood children engaged in sex acts in the attic of his house. So far as I know, Joe's still in jail, so it's all good, right? He's either paid or is paying his debt.
My friend wound up in a mental institution. The pictures the prosecutor showed her destroyed her. The then ten-year-old has been in and out of rehab and lives a wretched life.
Another case - teaching middle school, I had a beautiful seventh grader who came to school in tears one day, cried all day, and would only say, "My daddy, my daddy."
Over the following weekend, she was committed to a mental institution. A month later, her older, though still underage, sister reported their father for molesting them. About ten years later, I read that my student had committed suicide while still institutionalized.
As a fifth-grade teacher in an inner-city school for years, I had to do the "good touch-bad touch" lessons. You'd be surprised how many students reported "bad touching" in their lives, not to have their perp prosecuted, but because it haunted them.
The injuries to children don't stop when they quit screaming and bleeding.
So, Leigh, I have a question for you---how do you know if any life was ruined by the apparent predator living his "norqmal" life? I respect your parents for protecting you, but what about other kids?

Fran Rizer said...

Just looked back and saw that I misspelled "normal." Sorry, but this is a topic that makes my blood boil. I could fill a book with examples I dealt with as a teacher.
One more comment, I agree some situations are ridiculous such as a six or seven-year-old who kissed another kid on the hand. However, in today's society which can't seem to determine the difference between "rough housing" and "bad touching," I would advise most adults not to pinch kids' on their butts--not even relatives.

janice Law said...

A good post that suggest a multitude of story possibilities!

Eve Fisher said...

(1) Sexual predators are scum.
(2) Some sex offender cases aren't sex offense (not many - I'm with you, Fran - I remember a grandfather in court who raped each and every one of his grandchildren and got away with it because he was "such a nice man" and I would have chipped in to have him fry). But there are some, like the parents of a 15 year old girl who didn't like her 17 year old boyfriend and had him arrested for rape when it was entirely consensual, except, legally, a 15 year old cannot give consent in South Dakota. So he was convicted and went to prison for rape and is marked as a sex offender forever.
(3) Blackmail is almost as nasty a crime as what these guys are blackmailing about.
(4) Blackmail IS a crime. It should be stopped. There's lots and lots and lots of ways to legally harass a sex offender.
(5) You let blackmailers go to town on one issue - even if you tend to agree with them - and they'll figure out it's a free pass, and they're greedy. They're not in it because they hate sex offenders (although they might), but because they're making money. It needs to be stopped.

Anonymous said...

I was sexually assaulted in a vicious gang rape as a child, and survived. So I feel like I have a point of view here that might be valuable. It has three points. (1) Harming or harrassing sexual offenders after they have already been identified and punished does not help me in any way. It does not help me live a more productive life and it does not help me heal. It also does not help any of their other victims, nor does it it prevent other children from being victimized. (2) The databases from which the scammers are drawing their information already exist to make the names and addresses of sexual offenders known so that people can protect themselves. The scamming adds nothing to this system, and does not add any level of additional protection for anyone. Instead it simply lines the pockets of the scammers. (3) The families, including *children* of the sexual offenders are innocent. Someone who buys an offenders house is innocent too. Allowing innocent people to be abused is not right. It is the same as letting sexual predators abuse them. Abuse is abuse. To sum up: two wrongs don't make a right. This scam is a wrong.

Dixon Hill said...

Well, I have to say I agree with all of you. My take is: Sexual predators need to be dealt with in a way that protects society, without eroding important legal foundations supporting human rights.

I think Eve hit the target when she wrote that what these guys are doing is a crime, not an attempt to protect the public. Further, I believe Anonymous expressed my feelings even more fully, by stating: "...two wrongs don't make a right. This scam is wrong."

Dixon Hill said...

Readers may be interested in this information. The source is the Arizona Department of Public Safety (our version of the Highway Patrol and State Patrol, rolled into one organization).

(The text below was taken from an article written to provide supporting information for the article I mentioned in my post. It was published in the Arizona Republic .)

Sex offenders classified in 5 levels

In general, the levels indicate the seriousness of the offense and the date it occurred and determine if an offender must register on a public database. Levels are not necessarily based on the crime; two offenders who committed the same crime could be at different levels depending on the circumstances of their individual cases. The level is determined by the court. Registration is through the county or city where the offender resides, which is also responsible for community notification and reporting the offender’s information to the state Department of Public Safety, which maintains the public database. Offenders can change levels based on many factors, including time since conviction.

LEVEL 0: Pre-1996 crimes - Offenders do not have to register and community notifications are not made unless the offender has been reassessed by a law-enforcement agency.

LEVEL 1: Low risk - Offenders are not required to register on a public database. Community notification is not required. Offenders must register with law enforcement. Typically, their crimes are non-violent. Offenses might include solicitation of a minor or statutory rape — for example, a 19-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old.

LEVEL 2: Medium risk - Offenders are required to register on a public database, and community notification is required. Their offenses might include molestation or Peeping Tom-type crimes. They usually do not involve violence.

LEVEL 3: High risk - Required to register on a public database and community notification is required. These are often violent offenses such as sexual assault and rape.

LEVEL 4 - Recently released from the Department of Corrections. Not yet registered locally.
Source: Arizona Department of Public Safety

Dixon Hill said...

OH! And, no, Leigh, I did not take that photo. It came from a site called "Free Extras" located here:
http://free-extras.com/images/arizona_desert-1218.htm

Elizabeth said...

An uncle of mine was convicted in federal court in 1996 of possessing & distributing child pornography. He served 4+ years in federal prison. He was 72 when he went in. He was never alleged to have touched any child at all.

He died a couple of weeks ago. My cousin tried to get into his house to see if she could find his will, etc., and the police said nobody was allowed in the house because of a "search and seizure" order.

Although it does seem from things he had said recently that he & his pals were up to their same old tricks again, and that may account for the "search and seizure" order ... I looked into the rules governing what happens to convicted felons after they are released from federal prison. Evidently many ppl, especially sex offenders, get what they call "supervised release" when their time is up. They have to make a written report once a month as to their activities, employment, financial status etc.

So, it might just be standard procedure for the police or FBI, to go through a dead sex offender's house before allowing anyone in it.

The other nieces and I have decided not to tell his sisters (our mothers) about this latest indignity, as it would serve no purpose & probably just upset them all over again.





Anonymous said...

I agree with all above and most of all Anonymous. My mom (single mom) had a neighbor woman look after me while she worked. At least an hour or two a day was set aside for my bath and during that time my private parts were scrubbed and buffed and polished. Now of course I see she had a special obsession. I don't think I was harmed but just as certain she did wrong, I wonder how we separate someone who scrubs and buffs too much from another just doing her job? I don't think you can convict someone of that unless they're a man. And sad to say the burden is on guys. Whether guilty or not you got to be careful. Good article.

Dixon Hill said...

My condolences, Elizabeth, for what you and your family are having to weather, concerning your uncle.

Maybe some of the law enforcement folks on here can give us more details about the Supervised Release concept, which I'd never specifically heard of, but which might certainly make sense in certain cases. Perhaps they might also lend us their expertise concerning Search and Seizure orders on deceased sex offender property.

Anon number 2: It is ALWAYS PREFERABLE to have an additional child and adult with you, when working with a child on a project of any kind. In fact, this is REQUIRED of all adult Scouters by Boy Scout guidelines, which is where I learned the steps an adult can use to protect himself from false accusations.

If I have only one kid show up for Sunday School, and I can't find an additional child or adult to join us inside, I make it a practice to ALWAYS fully open all blinds, and leave a door propped wide-open by a chair.

I would strongly advise you to consider following these steps.

--Dixon

David Dean said...

Sexual offenders were supervised by their parole officers, though we (the police) were notified of their being within our jurisdiction and their location and status on the offenders website. Unless they offended again (or were suspects), or we were requested to accompany the parole officer due to safety concerns, that was the extent of our direct involvement.

As for the search warrant on the deceased offender's property, I'm thinking it resulted from an on-going investigation and probably concerns some living suspects or possible victims. But without seeing the affidavit for the warrant that's just a guess.

Dixon Hill said...

Thanks, David! That's just the sort of information I was hoping one of you guys would provide.

Much appreciated,
--Dixon

Elizabeth said...

Thank you Dixon and David ... I found out the police sent two trucks to the house to haul things away. So I'd be surprised if the family has heard the last of this awful occurrence.