|Less than 1,000 feet away from the Niagara Street Elementary School, a
former South End bar turned rooming house, the Midtown Inn offers rooms
at under $400 per month. It was condemned by city building inspectors as a result of both damage from a fire and a number of building code violations,
yet State Division of Parole has placed a half dozen registered sex offenders
in rooms there.
Back in 2009, after community protests, the Division of Parole agreed to
relocate some 16 sex offenders they had previously placed there since their
placement violates state law.
|James Szwedo, President of the
Niagara Street Business
Association, says, on behalf of the
association's 60 members and their
families, that, "We are ready to
picket again to protest the dumping
of sex offenders in our
|Niagara Street Elementary has 700 students and New York State Parole has placed nearly the majority of paroled sex offenders in the county in
propinquity to this school.
|Christ's Tabernacle Church and its
day care center sit directly across
the street from the home of numerous illegally placed sex offenders
|State Parole gave me their word
that they would work on getting
them out," said Niagara Falls
Police Chief Bryan DalPorto.
As many as seven convicted sexual predators are living illegally at the Midtown Inn, a condemned flophouse located at 1967 Niagara St., the Niagara Falls Reporter has learned.
Aside from the fact that city inspectors condemned the Midtown as unfit for human habitation following a recent fire, state law forbids sex offenders, who are listed as either level 2 or 3 on the New York State Sex Offender Registry, and are on parole or probation, from living within 1,000 feet from schools and day care centers.
In order to get a level 2 or 3 designation, the courts must have determined that the sex offender is likely to commit another offense against society.
According to City Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso, who measured it last week, the distance between the Midtown Inn and Niagara Street Elementary School is less than 1,000 feet.
"I went out there myself and measured it. It was 900 feet from the school," he said.
The Midtown is also less than 200 feet away from a children's center operated by the Christ's Redemption Church.
If all of this sounds eerily familiar, it is perhaps because outraged city residents forced the city and the state Division of Parole to stop using the Midtown to warehouse its sex criminals after a series of investigative reports appeared on these pages in 2009.
Still, if you like living near sexual predators, you’ve got to love Niagara Falls.
According to City-Data.com, there is currently one registered sex offender for every 329 residents here, the highest ratio of offenders to citizens of any city in the state.
Tonawanda has one offender per 4,560 residents, North Tonawanda has one for every 3,889 residents and Grand Island has one for every 3,171 residents.
In other words, you, your wife and your childrenm are at least 10 times more likely to encounter a violent rapist in Niagara Falls than in any of those places.
City-data.com is a website often used by real estate professionals and prospective residents to gauge the desirability of various locations throughout the country.
The presence of such a high number of sex offenders here has had a profound effect on residential property values, among other things.
Virtuoso said he blew a fuse when he found out about the situation. “I lost my temper,” he said, "The whole building is condemned. Nobody is allowed to live there. We sent a letter to the owner and he is supposed to get the people out of there, but apparently he isn’t doing it. God forbid something happens in there. He would be in a lot of trouble."
In 2009, as many as 25 sex offenders had been housed at the Midtown following the passage of a piece of legislation sponsored by former Niagara Falls Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte that called for “civil confinement” of these criminals rather than hard prison time. The loopholes contained in her original legislation were so big you could drive a truck through them, and even lousy attorneys did so with alarming regularity. Of the first 1,603 sexual predators released after the law was put into place, just 139 had their cases reviewed.
At the time, the State Senate proposed turning one of New York's underutilized prisons into a home for those despicable deviants who prey on our children. State Sen.
George Maziarz was a prime proponent of the approach, which would all but guarantee that incurable sex maniacs would never be free to destroy the lives of kids again.
But DelMonte, along with her mentor New York State Assembly Speaker of the House, Sheldon Silver and then-Gov.-elect Eliot Spitzer -- who had his own sexual problems -- put the kibosh on the approach, and passed a more lenient version of the bill.
“We ended up voting in favor of the watered-down version of the bill based on the logic that anything's better than nothing,” Maziarz said later. “But nobody believed it would actually work.”
It didn’t, and the problem now is worse than ever.
Niagara Falls Police Chief Bryan DalPorto immediately called a meeting with state parole officials on learning of the Midtown situation last week. Niagara County District Attorney Mike Violante and Virtuoso also sat in. Later in the week DalPorto also met with Anthony Restaino, director of the county Social Services Dept.
When asked if police might arrest the parolees at the Midtown because they were in violation of city ordinance, DalPorto told the Reporter that both he and Violante felt that, since a state agency placed them there in violation of the law, it would be better if the parole department just “kept their word” and moved them out.
“It’s hard to arrest them for violating their parole by the location of their address when the state parole agency placed them in their address,” he said. “State parole gave me their word that they would work on getting them out.”
Niagara Falls is a convenient dumping ground for sex offenders and all other classes of criminals because of the availability of cheap housing and access to social services such as parole, welfare and mental health care.
Rep. John Ceretto attacked DelMonte, his predecessor in the 138thDistrict State Assembly seat, for allowing the situation to occur in the first place.
“The state is using the city as a dumping ground for dangerous criminals, those who prey on the children of our community,” he said. “I grew up in Niagara Falls, and the city is not the city I left.”
In 2009, city school Supt. Cynthia Bianco called the housing of convicted rapists so near to the children entrusted to her care “unacceptable.”
The last round of illegally placed sex offenders also led to the Niagara Street Business Association, joined by many parents in the neighborhood, to organize an informational protest, picketing on Niagara Street and encouraging people to sign a petition calling for removing offenders from the Midtown Inn.
The petition garnered more than 200 signatures, and the perverts were sent packing.
Now they’re back and Niagara Street Business Association President James Szwedo said his organization is ready to do battle once more.
“We are ready to picket again,” he said.