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Hevesi proposes bill to tackle sex abuse

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Following allegations in February that a Rochdale Little League coach sexually abused his teenage team members, a Forest Hills lawmaker recently proposed a bill to make it harder for sex offenders to work with kids.

“That case absolutely sparked this and highlighted gaps in the law,” said state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills), referring to David Hartshorn, who was charged with criminal sexual act, use of a child in a sexual performance, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child after he allegedly took advantage of young athletes in his home for nearly two years, according to the Queens district attorney.

Hevesi said Hartshorn was charged with similar crimes in 1989 and should have been identified under the Sex Offender Registration Act.

The act requires that the state Division of Criminal Justice Services maintain a free, public database of sex offenders so organizations can vet potential employees or volunteers.

In Queens alone, there are 1,226 registered sex offenders.

But the database does not include a vast proportion of offenders who can slip through the system, according to Hevesi, which is why he wants a change.

“It’s very specific. For information that youth organizations are allowed to get for free, any offense that is of a sexual nature or is sexually violent should be included,” he said.

Sex offenders are categorized into three levels. Level 1 offenders are at a low risk for repeating the offense, Level 2 offenders are at a moderate risk and Level 3 are at a high risk, according to the division’s website.

Only Level 2 and 3 offenders currently are included in the public database, but Hevesi wants them all to be included.

“I think that’s the least we can do,” he said. “We have to protect our children from pedophiles.”

In addition, the public database only includes sex offenders who were convicted after 1996 — the year the database was created.

That is why Hartshorn slipped through the cracks, according to Detective Richard Santangelo, who spoke at a 113th Precinct Community Council meeting Monday.

Santangelo said Hartshorn served time for similar offences committed in 1989, before there was a database.

But even if these portions of the law were changed, sex offenders can avoid detection in another way.

The database catalogs criminals based on convictions, so if an offender agrees to plead guilty to lesser charges, the database can be avoided altogether, according to Hevesi.

That is why he will be introducing more legislation that would prohibit sex offenders from pleading guilty to lesser crimes.

Hevesi’s bill already has support in the state Senate, and Sen. Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie) will act as its lead sponsor now that Hevesi has sponsored it in the Assembly.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 10:53 am, October 12, 2011
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