I-Team: Tracking Sex Offenders in NY Complicated by ‘Homeless' Listings

Sex offenders in New York are registering themselves as “homeless” and not providing any location or address for themselves -- and it’s not against the law, the I-Team has found.

That’s what the I-Team discovered when researching the history of Ralph Hargrove, a 62 year old wanted by the NYPD for a subway groping. The lifelong criminal with a 1992 conviction of sex abuse was arrested in December at a Times Square subway station, his 14th arrest. Hargrove is listed as a level-three offender in the New York state sex offender registry, which is considered the most dangerous. 

Soon after he pleaded guilty to the subway groping and got a sentence that involved no jail time, he changed his address in the sex offender registry from a building on West 112th Street to a listing as homeless.

It's not uncommon: of the nearly 40,000 registered sex offenders in New York, the state says 275 are listed as homeless. In the five boroughs alone, the I-Team found 39 level-2 and level-3 sex offenders -- those most at risk of repeat offense -- with no known address.

"I don’t think that’s safe at all," said Janel Aheel, who lives near Hargrove’s building. "People need to know who they are living with."

Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law -- the law that created the public registry that requires convicted sex offenders to report exactly where they’re living -- is disturbed. 

"This information is made available about individuals that are known, caught and convicted and by law are determined to pose a risk to public safety," she said. "The community uses a registry to make important decisions about how to protect themselves and their children from known convicted sex offenders." 

"There are sex offenders that are aware this is a way for them to get out of registering properly – and I’m sure they see it as a loophole," said Ahearn. 

It's not a crime to report oneself as homeless and to not provide an address. And according to the state Division of Criminal Justice, which administers the registry, it is up to local police and the offenders themselves to report a sex offender’s location. 

"Law enforcement and city of New York knows where most of these folks are and can track them if necessary," said Legal Aid attorney Josh Goldfein, who says he doesn’t believe these offenders are totally off the radar since they are dependent on social services.

According to the NYPD, being homeless doesn't trigger any additional monitoring. But they say level-three sex offenders must check in with police every three months.

Assemblyman Dean Murray of Patchogue, says that’s not nearly enough.

"I think we need a more timely system," he said. 

Murray has introduced a bill that would require homeless sex offenders to "provide a description of their location every 24 hours to law enforcement." 

"We need to verify where they are and then it needs to be up on the registry," said Murray. "Because some of these people are jumping from place to place."  

It was apparent that Hargrove was on the move: soon after changing his address to homeless, he tried to rob an MTA bus driver at knifepoint on Fifth Avenue, records show. Police eventually tracked him down back at 112th Street, the address he had erased from the public registry.

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