Law aims to prevent sex offenders from working near kids

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A bill put forward by the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office would punish certain businesses if they “knowingly” hire a sex offender whose victim was a minor.

The proposed law would fine the entity $1,000 a day for every day the employee worked there unless the worker lied about his status as a sex offender when they apply.

“The only onus on the business is to ask the question, there is no fiscal cost unless the business hires the person knowingly,” Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said. “If the employee lies to the employer, [the offender] will be subject to a five year felony and a 5,000 dollar fine.”

The primary sponsors of the bill are State Representative Mia Ackerman, D-Cumberland and State Senator Stephen Archambault, D-Smithfield.

Kilmartin said his office proposed the bill after a Target 12 investigation revealed a convicted sex offender was working as an electrician at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s hospitals.

Joe Moitoso, 56, of East Providence, pleaded no contest to second degree sexual assault in 2012. The victim was 18 years-old when she went to police, but court records reveal she said the assaults started when she was at the age of 13.

“Needless to say that raised a lot of red flags and a lot of concern,” Kilmartin said. “We want parents and children to feel safe when they go to activities that children would normally participate in or would have to go into in a hospital setting, like Hasbro Children’s Hospital.”

The bill – called “the child safes zones” law – has a list of businesses and non-profits that would fall under its jurisdiction, including movie theatres, schools, arcades, beaches and health care facilities “intended primarily for minors or when a minor is present.”

Carolyn Medeiros the Executive Director of Alliance for Safe Communities – an organization that pushes for tougher crime laws – helped carve out the wording for the bill.

“It’s putting the fox in the hen house. It’s a no-brainer, you don’t do that,” Meideros said. “Legislators should use every reasonable tool available to them to keep our children safe.”

Medeiros said she was “shocked” when she learned the state did not have a law preventing registered sex offenders from working at businesses in which children frequent.

“I think we need to be proactive not reactive,” Medeiros said. “It’s not a matter of if something will happen in the state its when.”

In the Moitoso case, Lifespan Hospital Group originally defended their decision to keep him on the job, but then terminated him two days after Target 12 began to go public with its findings.

At the time a spokesperson said they made the move because they learned Moitoso’s request to be reduced to a level one sex offender had been denied.

The Rhode Island Sex Offender Community Notification Unit has deemed him a Level II, which means the state has classified him as a “moderate risk to reoffend” and his information is posted online.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @white_tim

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