2 On Your Side Investigation: Sex Offender Loophole?

7:56 PM, Apr 29, 2011   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - There are laws in place to protect children from sex offenders while they're at school, daycare and at the doctor's office. But 2 On Your Side has found there are legal loopholes that some believe are putting our children in danger.

State law in New York does not prohibit registered sex offenders from working in many positions, such as youth sports coaches, dance teachers or karate instructors.

Antonio Staley owns Western New York Martial Arts and Fitness Academy on Bailey Avenue in Buffalo. Staley is a level two sex offender. In 2006, he was convicted of Attempted Sexual Misconduct and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. In addition, he was required to register as a sex offender.

Staley maintains that he was wrongly convicted. "There was no evidence," Staley said. "Nothing to support that at all."

According to the arrest record, Staley, 33 at the time, was accused of having sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl. Staley claims she made up the story, but a judge found him guilty in a non-jury trial.

In 2009, while trying to get his life back on track following his conviction, Staley opened up his karate studio, where he trains about 40 children and adults.

"There's not been one incident here," Staley said. "I've been here two years. Name one incident that's been here."

Staley admitted that he didn't tell the parents at first but says everyone now knows of his conviction and sex offender status. He said not a single parent pulled their child from the class after getting the news.

"I have no restrictions with children (from the court)," Staley said. "If somebody had those types of restrictions set by a court that prevents them from doing that, I'm 100 percent with you that they shouldn't be in contact. I don't have those restrictions."

But Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, said such restrictions are needed on all sex offenders to prevent them from gaining positions of trust with children.

"Parents really believe that somehow or another, government is taking care of this problem, that they're preventing sex offenders from being able to access children," Ahearn said. "In fact, indeed, it's the opposite."

Ahearn has been working with state lawmakers to pass legislation that would close the alleged legal loophole.

Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak (D-Cheektowaga) is co-sponsor of one bill that would prevent employers from hiring sex offenders for positions that have direct or substantial contact with children.

"No way I, as a parent or as a legislator, want to see anyone in the state -- any child subjected to what this person did," Gabryszak said, but he acknowledged the bill he co-sponsored doesn't go far enough. The fine would only $100 for breaking the law, but Gabryszak hopes to amend that.

The bill passed unanimously in the State Senate last year, but it never came up for a vote in the Assembly. Ahearn blamed politics.

Another bill in the state legislature, which has the support of Ahearn's group, would make it a felony for a registered sex offender to work in a position with direct contact with kids, whether that job be voluntary or paid.

"If somebody has been convicted of a sex crime, they've gone through law enforcement, and they've gone through prosecution," Ahearn said. "So make no mistake about it, if you are a convicted sex offender, you have committed that crime, and you should not be permitted to volunteer or work with children."

Besides Albany, there are also efforts on the federal level in Washington. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) proposed a bill last year that would also prohibit sex offenders from working with children, making it illegal for offenders to be lifeguards, karate instructors, etc.

"If you're been convicted of a sexual crime, the likelihood is you're going to do it again," Schumer said last year. "So why allow that person to be at a job like lifeguard or dance instructor?"

Schumer's bill did not pass, but his office told 2 On Your Side he plans to re-introduce it soon and hopes it could pass this session.

Whether at the state or federal level, Staley said any legislation that prevents him from working as a karate instructor wouldn't just hurt him and his business; he said it would hurt his students, forcing them out on the streets instead of in a safe environment.

"These kids are getting some discipline, some focus," Staley said. "They're doing better in schools. Their grades are up. They're not out here running the streets trying to be menaces to society."

2 On Your Side spoke with Staley for more than an hour, and he maintained he was innocent of the charges and said he should not be punished for the rest of his life for a crime that he didn't commit. He said passing a law to prohibit sex offenders from serving as karate instructors goes too far.

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