FORT WAYNE – Amenities advertised at Travelers Inn on Fort Wayne’s east side include free wireless Internet and low daily and weekly rates as well as an indoor pool – although a condemnation notice warns people away from the pool.
What’s not advertised is that the establishment just off Indiana 930 is, as of Friday, home to at least 14 sex offenders who can be found on Indiana’s Sex and Violent Offender Registry website.
And most, if not all, are staying there at taxpayer expense.
Since 2006, the Indiana Department of Correction has used federal grant money to house some sex offenders recently released from prison in motels across the state. The program has been dubbed DOC Assist by prison officials and is designed to help offenders with no place to go and no support system to get back on their feet.
The Department of Correction did not provide statistics on how many offenders have benefited from the program or how much money has been spent supporting such offenders through the years.
Funds for the grant come from the U.S. Social Security Administration, according to Doug Garrison, Indiana Department of Correction spokesman. If it’s discovered that an inmate in prison is improperly receiving Social Security, that money is put into the fund.
Establishments that house sex offenders as part of the program meet the requirements regarding where sex offenders can live, Garrison said.
State law prohibits some sex offenders – those who have committed crimes against children and those deemed predators – from living within 1,000 feet of a school, public park or child-care center. The motels in the program are sometimes in hard-to-find pockets of land that provide a legal home for sex offenders, Garrison said.
These guys have to go somewhere, Garrison said.
There are no formal contracts between the motels and the Department of Correction, Garrison said. Instead, his agency has a changeable list of 36 motels that have participated in the program and meet living restrictions for sex offenders.
Fort Wayne has four motels used for the program within the city limits. A motel in Columbia City has also been used, although no sex offenders are currently registered with the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department as living there. Two motels in New Haven are listed.
Indianapolis has six motels in the program within its city limits. Eight such establishments are spread throughout the southern cities of Seymour, Bloomington, Scottsburg and Clarksville. In the northern part of the state, five motels are scattered among Tipton, Elkhart, South Bend and Kokomo.
Some motels on the list might no longer be participating in the program.
An employee at Wayne Motel at 7001 Lincoln Highway said the motel has not housed sex offenders from the state for about three years. The employee said that one sex offender has his home registered with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department as the motel.
An employee at Hallmark Inn at 3730 E. Washington Blvd., which at one time in mid-June housed at least 16 sex offenders, said the motel ended its participation in the program last week.
As of Friday, there were six offenders still registered with the sheriff’s department as residing at Hallmark Inn.
After moving, offenders have 72 hours to register their new addresses, which could explain the discrepancy.
A motel housing a sex offender through the program typically receives money from the Department of Correction to cover three weeks’ worth of room fees, according to Garrison. He said that in some cases the department might extend payments an extra week if needed.
At least one sex offender staying at Travelers Inn at 4606 Indiana 930 East said that is not the case.
They’ve paid my bill since March 8, said Willard Ernie Ritchie, a 58-year-old who was convicted of child molesting and served two years in prison.
After being released from prison, Ritchie said he was put up by the Department of Correction at Hallmark Inn. He lived there nearly three months. Recently, a private club opened at Hallmark Inn, drawing concern from prison officials.
Although it’s not against the law to live near such a club, Ritchie and other sex offenders were moved to Travelers Inn last week, he said.
Garrison, the Department of Correction spokesman, confirmed the move.
Ritchie was not upset with the decision, saying he does what he’s told, as he does not want to go back to prison. He said the program has kept him from living on the streets. Now he shares a room with another registered sex offender, he said, while he looks for work as a janitor.
It’s a hard time right now, he said.
An employee at the front desk of Travelers Inn who would not give his name said he does not notify other guests that registered sex offenders are staying there.
There is no known law or ordinance that requires motel operators to inform guests that sex offenders are living at a particular establishment, according to John Livengood, president of the Indiana Hotel and Lodging Association.
Travelers Inn employee did say, though, that the sex offenders living there are relegated to their own wing in the back of the motel.
They’re regular people, too, the employee said. They need somewhere to stay.