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    Offender accused of burglary, sexual abuse

    The manager of the apartment complex where the man worked says she didn't know about his past.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 1, 2001


    LARGO -- A registered sex offender who was working as a maintenance man at an apartment complex was arrested Wednesday night on charges he entered an apartment unit and sexually abused a young girl.

    James A. Whittey, 38, of 1788 Suffolk Drive, Clearwater, was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation and burglary to an occupied dwelling, both felonies.

    Whittey is accused of secretly entering the girl's unit at The Fairington Apartments, 2738 Roosevelt Blvd., about 11:15 p.m. Wednesday. His entry awakened the girl, who is under the age of 16, but did not awaken her mother, who slept in another room, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Cal Dennie.

    Whittey told the girl, who was wearing pajamas, that he was there to fix a leak. But sheriff's investigators later found no evidence there was a leak in the apartment, Dennie said.

    "He tried to show the girl a leak in the closet and there wasn't one there, then he tried to show her one in the living room and there wasn't one there," Dennie said. "Then he tried to get her to go outside and she wouldn't."

    At that point, Whittey grabbed the girl by the mouth and groin area. The girl screamed and Whittey ran out the front door, Dennie said.

    The girl was able to identify her attacker as a maintenance man who had previously talked to her, Dennie said.

    Whittey had worked at the apartment complex for about 10 months, but he apparently lied on his application by not revealing that he is a convicted sex offender, said Christine Walker, the apartment complex manager.

    The complex would not have hired him if they knew his history, she said.

    "He did not answer the questions correctly in his application," Walker said. "If this is true, then he did lie on his application."

    Walker said the complex ran a background check on Whittey when he applied for the job but did not uncover that he is registered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a sex offender. That information appears on the FDLE sexual predator/offender Web site.

    The victim's mother declined to comment to the St. Petersburg Times Thursday, other than to say she was outraged that a convicted sex offender was working at the complex. She would not say whether she plans to move out of the complex.

    Whittey was arrested in August 1996 on a charge of handling or fondling a female child under the age of 16 in a lewd or lascivious manner. A jury convicted him in February 1997, and a judge sentenced him to seven years in prison.

    But Whittey's sentence was cut almost in half last year after a Florida Supreme Court ruling that declared a 1995 get-tough-on-crime sentencing law to be unconstitutional. Whittey, who was one of 14,500 inmates statewide to receive a reduced sentence from the ruling, was resentenced in August to 44 months in prison -- about the time he had already served.

    Walker said there were no previous complaints about Whittey in the time he worked at the complex.

    "He's been in and out of apartments . . . and in the 10 months, there were no accusations," she said. "We're doing our best to look into the situation."

    - Chris Tisch can be reached at (727) 445-4156.

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