ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Sex offenders living in extended stay motels is a major concern for families throughout Central Florida. Families have been contacting 9 Investigates about the issue since we exposed a sex offender living at Heritage Park Inn. The extended stay motel was riddled with code enforcement issues that forced women and their children to live outside of their units.
Investigative reporter Daralene Jones has since learned there is no law that force sex offenders to stay off the properties that have become long-term housing solutions for Central Florida’s growing homeless community.
Jones spent weeks pulling information from the public websites maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations where it revealed hundreds of sex offenders living in extended stay motels in Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Brevard, Osceola, Lake and Marion counties.
Jones went to several of the extended stay motels and found 9-year-old Josiah, who lives in a unit at the Royal Inn on S. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, with his mother, sister, and grandmother, Jennifer Spagnola.
FDLE records show there are four registered sex offenders on the property, including Michael Weil, who is listed as a convicted sexual predator.
“I know everyone's got to live somewhere. You know, we need to be aware of that. They need to be sectioned off, you know, there's got to be some kind of guidelines because of the kids,” Spagnola told Jones.
Data pulled by 9 Investigates
When 9 Investigates merged data from the FDLE website and that at the DBPR system, which lists all extended stay motels in the state, 9 Investigates found 294 registered sex offenders living in extended stay motels in Central Florida. The most are concentrated in Orange and Volusia counties.
Weil, the convicted sexual predator who lives steps away from Spagnola and her family, was convicted of handcuffing and repeatedly sexually battering a woman at gunpoint. Court records showed he was released from sex offender probation three months ago, even though he still hasn't graduated a treatment program.
Weil’s attorney wrote in a motion to the judge while he was cited for violation of probation in July 2016, that was subsequently dismissed. His attorney told the judge that according to counseling services, Weil completed counseling, however, there remains an issue with acceptance of responsibility that may be delaying his successful graduation from the counseling program.
Jones was followed by a large group of tenants at the extended stay where Weil lives. They too, wanted to know why he chose to live at a motel that is full of children.
“If you check the records, and be a good reporter, instead of having your head up your ass, you'll see that my 'so called' victim was an adult, and it's got nothing to do with kids,” Weil told Jones.
An angry mother, with several children living on the same floor told Jones she and others have complained to the front office management about the sex offenders with no luck.
“We told the office and they said they couldn't do anything because it's private property. They can let anyone in here,” Cynthia Guzman said.
Others echoed her concerns, stating they have complained constantly about the offenders. The officer manager told 9 Investigates, however, that he had no idea the registered sex offenders were living on site, even as we showed him the public database online, easily searchable on the FDLE website.
Florida law restricts offenders from leaving within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, park, playground or school.
Management at family motels are not required to keep offenders at bay, or notify tenants, even though there are pools and playgrounds where children play. Each of the motels also have a school bus stop feet away because the children who live here are considered homeless and school districts’ must provide transportation.
Some states have more restrictive residency laws that prohibit offenders from living near school bus stops or public pools.
Rich Fleming has been living at Lake Holden Inn a few months. He was the only sex offender convicted of sexual battery against a child who was willing to defend his decision to 9 Investigates about why he lives at a place where children could tempt those like him to re-offend.
Fleming denied the allegations against him. He was convicted in South Carolina for sexually abusing a young child, and moved to Florida to start a new life with his girlfriend, who sat in on our interview.
“Well, people got to live. People go to live somewhere. I'm not living under no bridge like other people doing,” Fleming told Jones.
One local lawmaker is now interested in the issue of sex offenders living in motels because of our investigation.
Law enforcement officials told 9 Investigates while this may be of concern for parents, they should know that a majority of sex abuse cases involve someone a child knows, not a stranger.
County breakdown of sex offenders living at extended stay motels:
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