WCAX Investigates: Is Vermont failing to track sex offenders? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

WCAX Investigates: Is Vermont failing to track sex offenders?

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There are nearly 1,200 registered sex offenders living in Vermont. Now, a high-profile case raises new questions about how the state tracks these criminals.

WCAX investigated a mix-up that put a notorious child predator in a neighborhood full of kids. Through a public records request, we obtained insider emails that point to problems with Vermont's sex offender registry and its ability to give the public accurate information about where sex offenders really are.

Up until this week, Vermont probation officers were not required to check with the Department for Children and Families about the presence of day cares when finding homes for sex offenders who are not supposed to be close to kids. Now that's changing after a WCAX News story highlighted the problem earlier this week.

"I really think it's unfair that no one notified anyone that he was here," Bristol mom Beth Derringer said.

The controversy started after Bristol parents told us they were upset no one warned them Mark Hulett, a convicted child rapist, had been living in their neighborhood for months. Even the town's police chief says he didn't know.

"Frustrated," Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs said.

We decided to dig into how notification works and found out the whole process can be confusing.

"Obviously, you don't like to have someone move and not notify you and only find out second hand," said Jeffrey Wallin of the Vermont Crime Information Center.

The director of Vermont's sex offender registry says the website is only as good as the information provided by law enforcement and the offenders themselves.

"If we're not notified or we're not provided information, it is difficult to be up to date on that, because we don't have the ability to go out and physically verify ourselves," Wallin said.

Sex offenders like Hulett have three days to tell the registry if they've moved. Those changes are made online right away. But the whole registry is only updated quarterly to reflect police compliance checks.

Until January, the sex offender registry listed Hulett as a Waltham resident. But our research shows Hulett's timeline doesn't add up. The Department of Corrections says Hulett moved to Bristol Oct. 1. Yet Vermont State Police submitted a compliance check one week later that put him in Waltham. Detectives say he wasn't home at the time of the check, but signed off on Waltham because corrections said Hulett was being supervised and was compliant.

So how could the same sex offender be living in two different towns at the same time?

"If someone is on the registry, it should match with where they're living and we should know that," Vt. Deputy Corrections Commissioner Cheryl Elovirta said.

Hulett's case is the latest example, but emails obtained by WCAX through a public records request seem to reveal a more pervasive problem. A registry staffer wrote to law enforcement: "Unfortunately, not all agencies do their checks in a timely manner, and for some agencies it's a miracle if I can get them to do one check for me a year."

That means, in some cases, an entire year could pass before police make sure these sex offenders are where they say they are.

In another email, the staffer wrote: "I'm truly sorry about all of this; but unfortunately until the information is correctly relayed to my office I have no way of knowing what's right and what isn't. DOC dropped the ball here."

The Department of Corrections is not specifically commenting on the Hulett case but admits there's room to improve the system.

"As far as the registry is updated-- that is something that we should do and we could be doing better, if you're not doing that," Elovirta said.

Vermont Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard says DOC is conducting an internal review. And if there was an issue with DOC's notification to the registry not being timely, it's being fixed. Going forward, DOC is working on added safeguards to make sure this doesn't happen again. But she says notifications were made to local law enforcement via phone this fall.

Hulett left Bristol Wednesday. He's now living in Ferrisburgh. We don't know precisely where because that information is not available to the public.

Related Stories:

Sex offender who caused concern in Bristol relocated

Probation allows Vt. sex offender to live by day care

Bristol police caught off guard as notorious sex offender moves in

Notorious Vt. sex offender Mark Hulett released

Vt. child rapist soon to be freed

Vt. corrections alerts community about sex offender

Hulett's Mother Believes Son is Unfairly Imprisoned

Sex Offender Remains Behind Bars

Child Molester Held Beyond Prison Term

Charges Upgraded Against Mom Of Molested Child

Mother of Sex Assault Victim Faces Charges

Judge Cashman Speaks

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