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Milwaukee County vendor scrutinized for hiring sex offender

In previous posts we've discussed the professional ramifications of having to register as a sex offender. It's a standard sentence for those accused of sex crimes, but it can prevent someone from finding and keeping a job.

A registered sex offender who was hired to work with mental health patients in Milwaukee County was the subject of a recent meeting of the county's Health and Human Needs Committee. Its members voted to keep the vendor agency it hired to provide mental health services, despite the fact that the company hired the man without performing a background check on him. The vendor has been working under contract with the county since 2006, and hired the man in 2008.

The executive director of the vendor agency said it hired the man based on a recommendation by a psychiatrist who works with the agency, though the doctor has since denied that recommendation. The man was convicted in 2005 of underage pornography possession but was facing a second underage pornography charge in 2011 when he resigned. His parents wrote a letter to the judge handling the new case stating that the agency was fully aware of their son's background when it hired him.

Although the executive director apologized to the Health and Human Needs Committee members for hiring the man, possibly violating the terms of the agency's contract in the process, she said he had done a "phenomenal job" as a peer specialist. Even after the agency did a background check in 2009, he wasn't terminated, but transferred to work in a county-funded housing complex.

In February 2011 a fellow employee allegedly discovered underage pornography on the man's computer and reported the finding to the agency, but the agency didn't notify police. He resigned after other employees discovered his criminal record and began harassing him, the executive director said. By that time police had begun investigating the new pornography allegations. But it would all be for naught: Last month, the man committed suicide the day before his sentencing.

The agency also came under fire for not performing background checks on other employees, including some with felony convictions. It's unclear whether they were fired, but the sex offender's record was at the center of the County Board committee's objections. It's an unfortunate reality: No matter what the job, a sex offender often faces intense scrutiny once his or her history is discovered. 

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Panel backs contract for firm that hired sex offender," Steve Schultze, June 20, 2012

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