Monday, March 17, 2008

A pedophile's paradise?

By: Melanie Brooks

Palm River, Florida – Parents call it a pedophile’s paradise.

And, it makes them sick.

A mobile home park in the Palm River area is becoming a haven for sex offenders. They use the park as a rehab of sorts. Currently, 8 offenders live there and more could be on the way. Families across the street have had enough.

“They walk the street all the time. Every day I see them, and there isn’t anything I can do about it. I’ve just got to leave it alone,” said Carla Bowling.

Carla’s opinion is suddenly changing.

She felt empowered after a meeting at First Baptist Church Thursday night where fellow parents spoke up, wanting sex offenders out.

“If they want to go out in the country and do something like this, where it’s not around children, I wouldn’t have much of a problem. If they want to go into a community, an all-adult community, I don’t like that either, but they have to go somewhere. But, don’t put them in the middle of a candy jar,” pleaded Judy Cornett, a mother who knows firsthand the pain a sex offender can cause.

Her son was molested when he was just a boy. And, he wasn’t the only one. Other children were also hurt. Since then, Judy has been on such shows as Oprah and Leeza Gibbons. She was at the meeting to educate parents on how to shut down this mobile home park.

The park is called the “Florida Justice Transition” program located at 5015 24th Avenue South. The manager, Patty Morais, works with offenders every day on their probation and watches them constantly.

She says, “We’re watching these guys. The probation officers are watching these guys. They’re going through their counseling. They’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing.”

But, is what they’re doing legal? Should sex offenders have their own mobile home park?

Hillsborough County code enforcement says it may not be legal. They are investigating the case right now. They have not issued any citations, but they have started an active case. Case officers are going after the park for improper use of zoning.

So, who owns this park? Tampa Bay’s 10 News did some digging and found out that the park’s owner is traced back to Rooring Lake Gilbert, LLC. The owners did not return our phone calls.

Meanwhile, this predator colony, as some parents call it, is making money with rental charges. And, there’s 3 to 4 tenants per mobile home in some cases.

Carla Bowling worries every day about her 11-year-old daughter, Makayla, daughter who plays across the street. She calls the mere presence of these men near children, disgusting.

“I’m petrified. I’m scared, I’m really scared. It makes me mad. I don’t know how they can do it.”

Even her daughter says, “Sometimes they look at me. I’m worried about what to do if they come after me.”

A facility like this one already exists in St. Petersburg called the Palace Mobile Home Park. If parents in Palm River can help it, this new park in Tampa, only a month old, will be shut down as soon as possible.

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