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Is There a Sex Offender at Your Motel?

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Nursing home advocate Wes Bledsoe said he was checking addresses of sex offenders against those of nursing homes when he noticed several offenders were at one address, which happened to be hotel. Nursing home advocate Wes Bledsoe said he was checking addresses of sex offenders against those of nursing homes when he noticed several offenders were at one address, which happened to be hotel.
Bledsoe discovered scores of sex offenders are living in hotels and motels in Oklahoma, the less expensive ones, but still places where families stay. Bledsoe discovered scores of sex offenders are living in hotels and motels in Oklahoma, the less expensive ones, but still places where families stay.
Police said this isn't a surprise because the state's geographic restriction law, which restricts offender residency within 2,000 feet from any school, park, playground or daycare, leaves only a few places for sex offenders to live. Police said this isn't a surprise because the state's geographic restriction law, which restricts offender residency within 2,000 feet from any school, park, playground or daycare, leaves only a few places for sex offenders to live.

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Thousands of Oklahomans may unintentionally be putting themselves -- and their kids, especially -- at risk, as they travel across the state and across the country. It's not because they're flying in unsafe airplanes or driving on faulty tires, but because they're checking into hotels and motels without first checking the guest list.

When picking a neighborhood or apartment building to live in, many people will check the local sex offender registry to find out if there's anyone they need to avoid, but who would think to check for sex offenders in their hotel?

Even Wes Bledsoe, who makes a practice of checking for sex offenders in nursing homes, hadn't thought of it. But it was, in fact, while performing one of those routine address checks that he discovered something unusual.

"I kept seeing this one address popping up," Bledsoe said.

When he googled the address, it brought up a link to a local hotel. It was a shocking discovery, he said, and just the tip of the iceberg.

Further research revealed scores of Oklahoma sex offenders, who are required to register their address with local police and the department of corrections, clustered in dozens of budget hotels and motels across the state.

When we visited one of those hotels recently, the owner acknowledged that sex offenders had been staying here.

"Last month I had three or four of them," said Ike Llani, who is a hotel owner.

It is not illegal for sex offenders to stay in hotels, as long as they're located outside the areas prohibited for sex offenders, and Llani's hotel is.

There's also nothing in the law preventing hotels from accepting sex offenders, or requiring them to notify guests that sex offenders are staying there. The truth is, Llani said, he wasn't even aware until recently that some of his extended stay guests were sex offenders. But now that he does know, and now that Mr. Bledsoe is drawing negative attention to the issue, he said he is moving them out.

"I have to take care of my business, I'm trying to clean up the place," Llani said. "I don't have very many now -- two of them I'm aware of and I already given them notice to leave the place."

Llani said there are other hotel operators, however, who will be happy to take their money, which Bledsoe said concerns him.

"How many parents are thinking, 'You know what -- there could be a sexual predator or a sex offender that's living under the same roof?'" Bledsoe said.

While it might come as a surprise to parents that sex offenders are living in hotels, it's no surprise to police.

"We have 50 to 60 offenders that are registered in hotels or motels," said Oklahoma City Police Cpt. Jeffrey Becker.

Becker and his sex offender registration unit understand that the state's geographic restrictions for sex offenders (cannot reside within 2,000 feet of any school, park, playground or commercial daycare) leave very few places where they can reside legally.

"We have a mapping program that tells us about 85 percent of the actual addresses in Oklahoma City are prohibited for offenders to register at," Becker said. "So we've developed a map that we give to offenders that shows the buffer zones of the prohibited area; that allows them to then go out and find an address that's not prohibited."

See a map of Oklahoma City's registered sex offenders residency restrictions

Still, that can be easier said than done.

"Joe" is a sex offender who said he has no choice, really, but to live in a tent on the side of the road. He lived for a couple of months in a hotel, but when he lost his landscaping job, he couldn't afford the hotel and had to look elsewhere. He said he has a sister who was willing to take him in, but, legally, it wasn't possible.

"She's close by, but she's within 2,000 feet [of] a school, and a park, so there's no way that I could be living with her," Joe said.

Mark Pursley is Joe's probation officer.

"It's frustrating for us--how do you supervise a homeless sex offender?" Pursley said.

He understands the concern about sex offenders living in hotels, but he said the geographic restrictions are making the problem worse for everyone -- making more offenders homeless, causing more of them to stop registering, stop getting treatment, and thus making them more likely to reoffend.

"If the lawmakers took an honest look at the research out there they'd immediately get rid of residential restrictions, because we know that residential restrictions lead to recidivism -- we know that, and yet we're enforcing it every day," Pursley said.

Prosecutors and police officers said they agreed that the current restrictions are too strict and are counter-productive.

But state lawmakers overwhelmingly support geographic restrictions for sex offenders and, in fact, are trying to tighten them up still more. Given that fact, and their admitted desire to be "tough on crime," they may be receptive to what Bledsoe said will be an appeal to do something about this problem he's uncovered.

"All we're suggesting is this -- that there's awareness," Bledsoe said. "That you can make a decision about the safety of your children and your loved ones whenever you're staying in a hotel or motel."

Law enforcement officials said there's certainly nothing wrong with parents being able to know if sex offenders are living in a hotel or any other place, but they said it's important for them not to lose sight of the bigger threat: more than 90 percent of sexual abuse cases of children are committed, they said, not by the stranger staying down the hall in their hotel, but by someone the child knows.

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