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New bill targets sex offender loophole

Convicted sex offenders must register their addresses, but some avoid doing so by saying they are homeless, prosecutors say.

By RICHARD RAEKE
Published April 12, 2004

NEW PORT RICHEY - David Renczkowski is a convicted sex offender. As such, he is required by the Florida Sexual Predators Act to notify authorities of his address "within 48 hours of establishing a temporary or permanent residence."

Last June, prosecutors say Renczkowski did not do so and charged him with failure to register as a sex offender, a charge punishable by five years in prison.

At his trial March 30, Renczkowski's attorneys brought to light a hole in the law. Renczkowski, 35, claimed he didn't have a temporary or permanent residence and therefore couldn't register. Senior Judge Fred Bryson, filling in to help with the caseload in Pasco County, threw out the case against Renczkowski.

The ruling came as a disappointment to Greg D'Armand, father of one of Renczkowski's victims.

"(Renczkowski) just has no regard for what rules they put down on him," he said. "The excuse of homeless or not still puts people at risk."

Whether Renczkowski is truly homeless is a matter of debate.

Renczkowski told Pasco County sheriff's Detective Eric Seltzer that he stayed at a friend's house on DiPaolo Drive in Port Richey for 20 hours a day, then he headed into the woods or to a bar for the remaining four hours.

"The state has not proven that the defendant had either a permanent or temporary residence as defined in the statute. And therefore we'd move for a judgment of acquittal," Public Defender Dean Livermore argued, according to the trial transcript. Prosecutors said that Renczkowski had an address to use for sex offender registration.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Andringa said Renczkowski was at the DiPaolo Drive home "a considerable amount of time, up to 20 hours a day, conducting business there, receiving mail there. And this was the place where if you wanted to find the defendant, you'd find him. And that's the address that law enforcement needs to know. And that's the address that he failed to give them.

"So to say that the defendant didn't have a residence, that he was homeless, really is a sort of hypertechnical reading of this statute that doesn't give the effect that the Legislature intended to give it.

"Which is, we want to know where he is so if there is a kidnapping or if there is another sexual offense, we can find him. Or if there is a kindergarten down the street, we can tell them this guy is there 20 hours of the day. Or if there is a church, this guy is down the street."

In April 1996, a jury found Renczkowski guilty of four counts of committing lewd and lascivious acts. According to his accusers - four girls, who ranged in age from 10 to 12 years - Renczkowski would engage them in games of Truth or Dare during slumber parties at a friends' house.

He dared the girls to perform oral sex on him. When they did, he gave them cans of Budweiser, packs of Virginia Slims and let them watch pornography.

Other times, Renczkowski, then 26, would have the girls run naked through the yard while he hid in the bushes, according to his arrest report.

Renczkowski received a 10-year prison sentence. He appealed the conviction and won a new trial in May 1997. Before the second trial, he pleaded no contest to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and received four years in prison and 10 years probation.

Andringa asked Bryson to let the jury consider the case and then let the case go through the appeals process, if need be.

But, Bryson said, "I don't think it's the job of the courts to put patches on tires that the Legislature has invented."

"The defendant, I think, somewhere back in those charges is presumed to be innocent," Bryson added. "So we start off with the state having the burden of proving a charge that they, and they alone, chose to lodge against this defendant. He did not ... send out invitations to this dance."

A new bill in the state Legislature would close that loophole, said Republican state Rep. Sandy Adams of Orlando. Under the amended Florida Sexual Predators Act, sexual offenders must notify officials within 48 hours of moving from a residence of an "address or location" where they can be found.

Adams said the issue was brought to her by prosecutors who had seen cases of sexual offenders saying they were homeless to avoid registering. Under the amended law, Adams said being homeless is "no longer a valid argument."

But Dennis Siegel, head of the sex crimes division of the State Attorney's Office in Broward County, said he was not sure whether the amended law would close that loophole adequately.

His office has seen approximately five cases of sexual offenders who are "truly homeless or people who are bouncing from one place to another," Siegel said. He could not recall a case like Renczkowski's where residence was a matter of debate.

"I'm not sure (the legislation) addresses what they truly want to address," Siegel said. "If you are truly homeless, it doesn't address how you are supposed to provide a residence."

If your home is on the streets, in a vacant lot or under a bridge, Siegel asked, "How do you identify where you are occupying?"

- Richard Raeke covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is rraeke@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 12, 2004, 01:05:27]


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