Jeff Jardine

Trouble for house full of sex offenders?

A  home for Megans Law registrants located north of Modesto. Photographed on Thursday, September 11, 2008.
A home for Megans Law registrants located north of Modesto. Photographed on Thursday, September 11, 2008. Modesto Bee

Not in my back yard. Not in my front yard. Not on my side yard.

It doesn't matter if the acronym is NIMBY, NIMFY or NOMSY. Nobody wants registered sex offenders living in their neighborhoods, and who can blame them?

These offenders committed sickening and despicable acts that will dog them the rest of their days. Their victims -- usually innocent children -- often are scarred emotionally for life. The punishment, many folks feel, never truly matches the crime.

That stated, in most cases these offenders eventually get out of prison. By law, they're released to the county where they were convicted. They need a place to live, if only so we know where they are. Under Megan's law, they must register with law enforcement. Sometimes for the rest of their lives.

They are pariahs, bound by numerous restrictions and at the whim of parole, probation and police officers who can search their homes at any time without a reason or warrant. Under Jessica's law, registered sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of a K-12 school or a park where children play.

Finding living quarters is as difficult for these offenders as keeping a low profile.

In north Modesto, there is a home that houses at least 16 and possibly as many as 20 registered sex offenders. The Megan's law Web site lists 16 of them at the address, and information on the others simply needs to be updated, authorities said.

All 16 were convicted of committing sex crimes against children under 14 years old. At least 12 are on parole. Six of the 12 have been "strapped," meaning they wear global positioning system anklets. The other six will get them within the next week or so, parole officials said.

The home is operated by Obispo Gray Ministries, a religious nonprofit based in Modesto and registered with California's secretary of state. The house is the remnant of an old farm, now surrounded by light industry.

In theory at least, it's a good location because it isn't anywhere near neighborhoods, schools or parks.

While this residential facility isn't under contract with the parole division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the state is happy with the way it's being run and has had no qualms about referring parolees to it.

"It's in an ideal place," said Gordon Hinkle, press officer for the CDCR.

After all, the purpose of Megan's law is to know where sex offenders live. When there are 16 to 20 of them in the same place -- some monitored with GPS devices -- it's the next best thing to having them in custody. The offenders at this particular home, Hinkle said, have caused no known problems or violated the terms of their probation.

Not so fast.

Just down the street, in an industrial park, there's a preschool and day care center with a gymnastics school next door and a fitness center nearby. None of these businesses, though, fall under the Jessica's law provisions. Until a member of the public told them, some of these business owners didn't know the men in the house at the end of the street are registered sex offenders.

"We thought it was a drug house," said the owner of the preschool, situated less than a couple of football fields from the offenders' residence. "We'd see guys hanging out in front, smoking. There are sheriff's (deputies) over there all the time and probation officers. So we thought it was a drug house."

Concerns from the public have prompted the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department to investigate the nonprofit operating the home and its residents to make sure they're compliant in all aspects, said sheriff's deputy Royjindar Singh.

It doesn't look good for the home.

Obispo Gray-Arrington, the man who runs the nonprofit, could not be reached for comment. Various numbers, including a business listing with a Turlock exchange, were disconnected. Gray-Arrington's nonprofit has had a state license since 1991. Three times, the license has been suspended, most recently in 2002.

He obtained a business license from the county in December 2007 and provided a copy to state parole officials. But on his application, Gray-Arrington indicated he planned to use the six-bedroom home as a parsonage -- meaning a pastor's home -- county Senior Planner Angela Freitas said.

The property is zoned for agriculture, a designation that allows someone to work from home. But not to turn the place into a Motel 6. Or in this case, Motel 16 or 20. To do that would have required a general plan amendment and rezoning of the property, neither of which was granted, Freitas said.

In some respects, it's a lose-lose situation. Under the right circumstances, this could have served as a model for housing sex offenders: a facility in a place where you wouldn't normally expect to find children and a place where a sizable number of Megan's law registrants could be monitored throughout their probations or paroles.

Instead, for a variety of legitimate reasons, the residents of this house soon could find themselves looking for new quarters. Some could end up out on the streets, making them less accessible to their parole officers.

Which means you can add another acronym to the mix:

NIMIA (Not in my industrial area).

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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