Hotel home to 24 molesters
Woodcreek Inn has deal with state DOC
EVANSVILLE — Their options limited by state law and circumstance, local parole officers are housing six recently paroled sex offenders at an Evansville motel, bringing the total number of sex offenders staying there to 24.
The Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry last week listed 24 sex offenders at Woodcreek Inn & Suites, including a handful who are not on parole. Also included are paroled offenders who began living at Woodcreek through the motel’s long-standing arrangement with the Indiana Department of Correction’s Evansville Parole Office, but who are now paying for their own lodging.
The department is paying for the lodging of six of the offenders, who sign agreements to repay the money after a transition period.
The payback provision didn’t work very well last year, however. The Correction Department reports $191,158 was spent on the program statewide in 2011, but only about $300 was repaid.
The arrangement between Woodcreek and the local parole office is one of 15 such pacts statewide, all but two involving motels. It is the only one in the local parole office’s 10-county jurisdiction, which includes Vanderburgh, Warrick, Posey and Gibson counties.
Eleven of the 24 registered sex offenders at Woodcreek committed their crimes outside of Vanderburgh County, including one whose crime was committed in another state. It isn’t known if that offender has ties to the Evansville area.
Woodcreek Inn & Suites is lo
cated at 2530 Highway 41 North, just north of the intersection of U.S. 41 and East Diamond Avenue. A man who identified himself as the property’s general manager declined to comment and forbade the Courier & Press to speak to residents on-site.
Vanderburgh County Assessor’s Office records indicate the property is owned by Yerolemos LLC, which gives the motel’s address as its own. George Yerolemou, identified by the motel’s switchboard as its owner and confirmed by the Correction Department as its contact, did not respond to telephone messages left by a reporter.
According to local parole officers, the arrangement with Woodcreek is a solution of last resort for parolees who are hemmed in by state law and the Indiana Parole Board’s tough residency restrictions for sex offenders.
John Markham, assistant director of parole, described the predicament of a newly paroled sex offender who lacks resources to live in compliance.
“‘I can’t go back to where I was living before my conviction because I live close to a park,’” Markham said. “‘I can’t go with a family member, my mother, because she lives across cater-cornered, within 1,000 feet, of a school or playground or day care center.
“‘So my parole officer says to me, ‘Any other ideas? Any friends or whatever else?’ No, they’ve got young children in the house.”
The parole board’s Stipulations for Sex Offenders are uncompromising.
“You must not reside, visit or be within 1,000 feet of public parks with playgrounds, pools, rides, and/or nature trails; schools, day care centers, public swimming pools, public beaches, theaters, or any other place where children can reasonably be expected to congregate,” states stipulation No. 5.
With that language, Markham said, it is virtually inevitable that registered sex offenders will live together.
“When you limit someone’s residences, you necessarily push them to where they are allowed to live. Nobody wants to hear that,” he said.
For the parolee with nowhere else to go to stay out of prison — and the parole officials charged with tracking them — the 1,000-foot rule means enlisting the cooperation of motels, shelters and other places that can keep parolees legal.
It isn’t an easy job.
“We spoke to tons of people trying to put together something like that,” said Bob Hays, Markham’s assistant supervisor. “Think about it: walking up to somebody, knocking on the door and saying, ‘I’d like to put some sex offenders in your apartments.’ ”
Local shelters have been used, Hays said, but they became ineligible with the construction of facilities that put them in violation of the 1,000-foot rule.
Roxie Huffman, who said she lives and works near Woodcreek, said she doesn’t like having two-dozen convicted sex offenders in an Evansville motel — especially one that’s near her and her children.
“Anybody traveling through Evansville, if they’ve got children … if there’s children around, that just poses an opportunity,” Huffman said. “If people don’t know to keep their children away, if they don’t know there’s a cluster, people need to be made aware.”
Huffman said the presence of the offenders at Woodcreek has her on edge in light of last month’s murder of a 9-year-old girl who lived in a Fort Wayne, Ind., mobile home park that housed numerous registered sex offenders.
But Markham pointed out that Michael Plumadore, who is charged with murder in connection with the girl’s death, is not a sex offender.
“It wasn’t about the sex offenders,” he said. “It was about this guy who butchered this little girl up like a pig, who was not a sex offender. But it got everybody’s attention.”
The six recently paroled sex offenders whose lodging is being paid for by the state are not given the money to pass on to the motel.
The Department of Correction pays on a direct-bill basis from a combination of departmental appropriations and federal Social Security Administration payments made in return for incarceration notifications.
Some sex offenders may choose to reside at Woodcreek independently of the Correction Department’s arrangement with the motel, Markham said, simply because it is practical.
“There’s only so many places left over. That’s one of those places that they know is safe for them to live at, by our rules, and that unfortunately, is affordable,” he said.
The state’s arrangement with Woodcreek is not a cushy one for offenders, Markham said. They are required to look for employment.
The local parole division gives offenders two weeks to find jobs, with the possibility of extra weeks if they can prove they are making energetic efforts to find work.
That requires producing papers with employers’ names and locations, the positions for which parolees applied and signatures of potential employers. Parolees are expected to visit several employers daily.
“Hopefully within that first week, after going to 30 places, somebody’s going to hire you that’s acceptable, that you can be hired at, and that we can approve your hiring at,” Markham said. “Don’t come in here and tell us, ‘Yeah, I got a job at a day care center,’ because we’re not going to approve that. There’s been sillier things that have happened.”
The parole division also makes referrals to outside agencies for clothing, medical services, food, transportation and parolees’ other needs when necessary. Markham and Hays say some factories and temporary agencies have shown they are willing to work with the parolees.
In Indiana, the responsibility for registering and monitoring the whereabouts, conduct and compliance status of sex offenders falls to sheriff’s departments, all of whom feature the sex offender registry with several search options on their websites.
Sheriff Eric Williams said the presence of roughly two dozen registered sex offenders at Woodcreek Inn & Suites has some benefits for the public.
“Honestly, it probably works to our advantage that several of them live over there because they’re all easier to find,” Williams said.
“I am always more concerned about those that we don’t know about, that aren’t on the registry, that haven’t been caught yet, or those that are transient and they’ve moved into our community and we have no knowledge that they should be on our registry because we don’t even know they’re here yet.”