The public had no warning about John Burbine, the supposedly low-risk Level 1 sex offender from Wakefield now accused of sexually abusing 13 infants and children.
The state had classified him as a Level 1 sex offender despite his three 1989 convictions for indecent assault and battery on a child. The classification allowed his past to stay secret, police barred by law from telling parents of children he cared for about his record.
But he's far from the only Level 1 sex offender convicted of crimes against children, a FOX Undercover investigation has found.
The state Sex Offender Registry Board, in response to a records request from FOX Undercover, now says that 1,737 Level 1s have child sex offenses on their records. That's 65 percent of all the 2,693 Level 1 offenders in the state.
"Only in Massachusetts would we take a group of people who have been convicted of sex crimes against children and hide that information," said Laurie Myers of Community Voices, which is fighting for tougher sex offender laws. "How do you justify that? You can't."
Saundra Edwards, the chairperson of the Sex Offender Registry Board says an offender's crime is just one of 24 factors the board uses to classify offenders as either high-risk Level 3s, moderate-risk Level 2s or low-risk Level 1s.
"People just don't get it. Why is the board classifying people convicted of sex crimes against children as low risk?" asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
"They have to consider again, not just the crime. This is not a state where it's legal to just consider the crime. You have to consider the crime of course. You have to weigh in the 24 factors. And again you have to consider current information, not just old or historical information," Edwards replied.
Those 24 factors include the relationship between the offender and the victim, the date, number and nature of prior offenses, and whether the offender is currently in treatment.
"Are you comfortable with all these sex offenders being considered low risk?" Beaudet asked.
"It does seem like a large amount. But I would have to know the facts of each one of these cases," Edwards replied.
"You can find out though. We can't find out. You know," Beaudet replied.
"I would not comment on another individual's decision," she said.
While the Sex Offender Registry Board is made up of seven members, a single board member or examiner is deciding classification levels.
"What do you say to the public that still looks at the John Burbine case and says, ‘Oh my God. What are these people doing at the Sex Offender Registry Board?'" Beaudet asked.
"Well, assuming people are saying, ‘What are they doing at the Sex Offender Registry Board,'" Edwards replied.
"I think people are saying that," Beaudet responded.
"The answer is we're doing a very good job at what's being done. This administration is doing a tremendous job. This administration has made great strides," Edwards replied.
"Do you think the person who classified John Burbine did a good job?" Beaudet asked.
"I cannot by law comment on another individual's decision," Edwards replied.
State Rep. Brad Jones, the House Minority Leader, did comment.
"Crime like that it just shouldn't be a Level 1, and I think the (Sex Offender Registry Board) should sit back and they should be going back at their own records: why did this happen?" Jones said.
"I think your own data indicates that the discretion SORB has exercised at least in recent years has in at least some instances been lacking," he said.
Jones has filed legislation that would take away some of that discretion, making it impossible for people convicted of most crimes against children to be classified as low-risk Level 1s.
The bill would also require a majority of board members to agree on a classification level instead of giving that authority to just one member.
"It's mind-boggling. It's quite frankly disgusting, and when you see that you have to stop and say, ‘What is this person who made the decision thinking?'" he said.
Gov. Deval Patrick filed a bill to make information about Level 1 offenders public but the Legislature didn't pass it. He plans to re-file it this year.
The last time FOX Undercover obtained the number of Level 1 offenders convicted of sex crimes against children was in 2006 when Mitt Romney was governor. Since then, the number has almost doubled. The sex offender registry board chair says the increase is due in part to the board eliminating the backlog of offenders who had not been classified.
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