In January, a local man claiming to be a pastor obtained a business license from Stanislaus County to operate a religious nonprofit in north Modesto. He used the license to open a so-called residential facility to house registered sex offenders.
The property, as I pointed out in a column last week, is zoned for general agricultural use with a single-family home, not for a dormitory. Under that restriction, no more than one sex offender could live there unless the county amended its general plan and changed the zoning, which it didn't.
Yet, relying on the business license provided by the pastor, Obispo Gray of the Modesto-based Obispo Gray Ministries, state parole officials claim to have sent 12 offenders to live there under his supervision. Others, including some former residents, said there were as many as 23 at one time. Complaints by neighbors compelled officials to relocate all of the offenders.
According to some former residents, offenders were stacked like cordwood in bunk beds throughout the house's four bedrooms and in a room that had been converted from a porch or some other use. The state paid the parolees' rent, which, according to some former residents, was nearly $600 a month per offender for a bunk bed and meals.
Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Sacramento, said Gray provided authorities with the business license and a conditional use permit, satisfying the requirements needed to designate the home as a residential facility. As a residential facility, it could house more than the one offender.
But Kirk Ford, Stanislaus County's interim planning director, said his office has never issued a conditional use permit for the property.
Parole officials, hardworking and dedicated people who are no doubt eager to find housing for sex offender registrants, didn't take the steps necessary to ensure Gray met all the legal requirements for the home. There is a great need to find places where they can live because of the restrictions resulting from their convictions.
It appears that parole officials who inspected the property didn't notice the house is within 200 or so yards of a preschool, gymnastics academy and fitness center. All are places where children spend time, though they don't fall within the guidelines of Jessica's law, which prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a K-12 school or a public park where children routinely play. The law is being challenged in court. But still, probation officials might have had second thoughts before sending offenders to the home.
If they routinely inspected the property, they would have noticed a rather large hole dug for the purpose of adding another septic system to the property. Gray planned on bringing in mobile homes to house more offenders, according to former residents and a motor home dealer in Stockton. A phone call to Stanislaus County Environmental Resources would have told them Gray never applied for a permit to add a septic tank.
And had they done a routine background check on Gray, they would have discovered an interesting paper trail that includes civil judgments against him in Southern California and Modesto, some of them based upon evictions. They would have found aliases and at least five Social Security numbers associated with his name, according to online records services.
"Generally, each person gets one (number) throughout (his or her) life," said Patricia Nicasio, a public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration in Fresno.
"We don't issue a duplicate number just because you get tired of the old one."
I'm sure the pastor can explain the inconsistencies, but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. His cell phone's voice mail was full and he did not return pages.
Jerry Brannon, who owns tire and motor home businesses in Stockton, said Gray approached him a few months ago. Gray, Brannon said, told him he was trying to place the offenders in jobs through a state program that would reimburse Brannon for all or part of their wages. Gray, Brannon said, claimed he had all the necessary insurance and coverage, including workers compensation. Brannon said Gray required the employees' paychecks be addressed to the employee and the ministry, which Brannon found unusual.
"And he never came up with proof of workers comp," Brannon said.
Brannon said Gray also told him, " 'I have this property and I can put some mobile homes in there,' " Brannon said.
"I went ahead and bought two or three extras (at auction) with him in mind. I wouldn't have purchased them if he hadn't encouraged me. I also had a double-wide he wanted. I never heard from him again about it. We're pretty well done (dealing) with him."
Ultimately, though state parole knows virtually everything about its sex offenders and parolees, it knew very little about the person entrusted with supervising them in their daily lives.
This issue cries out for intelligent discussion and debate about how to effectively house sex offenders once they're out of the slammer, protecting law-abiding residents while rehabilitating the offenders who truly want to change.
But in this case, it's simple: As many as 23 sex offenders at one time lived in a farmhouse that should have had only one, and it was operated by someone whose history wasn't scrutinized. The state partnered with the self-proclaimed pastor to misuse the property.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.