AKRON, Ohio - In Ohio, there are more than 19,000 registered sex offenders. Despite state laws designed to protect the public from convicted rapists and child molesters, deputies admit they have no idea where hundreds of them are living.
NewsChannel5 investigated a loophole in the law which allows sex offenders to give an intersection as an address, and list themselves as homeless.
"The big fear is that they're registering as homeless to skirt the system because they're living somewhere they shouldn't be," said Inspector Bill Holland with the Summit County Sheriff's Department.
Summit County has one of the highest populations of registered sex offenders in Ohio, with nearly 1,000 of them.
Currently, 31 of the offenders are homeless, and nine of them are considered the most dangerous, sexual predators or Tier 3 sex offenders.
Holland said under Ohio law, deputies must record addresses for all registered sex offenders even if a street corner is submitted. Depending on the level of the crime, a sex offender is required to register his address anywhere from once to four times a year.
Detectives or deputies, charged with keeping tabs on offenders, rarely find them living at the listed cross streets, but as long as they keep registering, there is little law enforcement can do to truly monitor their whereabouts.
Holland said all 31 of the county's homeless sex offenders are current with registration requirements and are not breaking the law.
However, many in law enforcement, including Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, believe a dangerous loophole exists.
"Quite frankly, we don't believe that they're necessarily homeless. They're more likely to be what I would call transient," Bevan Walsh said.
Holland recently hit the streets in an effort to track down Joshua Krunich, a Tier 3 sex offender, who every three months lists 18th Street and Wilbeth Road in Akron as his address.
People who live at the corner told Holland they haven't seen Krunich and the inspector didn't locate him.
Holland said there's no evidence to show that Krunich is deliberately avoiding detection, but the fact that deputies can't find him is terrifying to a 42-year-old Akron woman, who was raped by Krunich in 2008.
Krunich, a stranger to the victim, burst into her home in the middle of the night, woke her up, bit her and then sexually assaulted her.
"It scared the living hell out of me and I freaked out," the woman said.
Krunich spent three years in prison and was released in 2011.
"He could be right around the corner and me not know it," the victim said.
Last month, Timothy Jackson, who spent 10 years in prison for a sex crime against a 4-year-old girl, returned to court after police discovered he was not homeless, as he claimed.
In court, Jackson, 39, told Judge Alison McCarty, "I wasn't purposely dodging anything."
Detectives said Jackson listed his address as homeless, but when he failed to register, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Eventually, investigators found him living in an Akron home. He was charged with failure to verify and McCarty sentenced him to serve three more years in prison for that crime.
Jackson's attorney, William Mooney, said his client has a drug problem and told him from the start that he was homeless.
"He may or may not at the time, because of his substance abuse issues, been aware that law enforcement was even looking for him," Mooney said.
Many in the community find it alarming that it's so easy for sex offenders to disappear and not be tracked.
Mike Decker, who owns Decker Muffler in Akron said, "They're in the system on paper, but they're not in the system as far as being tracked and where their locations are," Decker said.
Bevan Walsh said sex offenders who lie about where they're living are charged with felonies, but she admits the public should be concerned about those who are skirting the system and can't be found.
"I would like to see some way where we can come up with a means in which to make sure the community is protected," Bevan Walsh said.
The woman raped by Krunich in 2008 couldn't agree more. She wants the state to come up with a better way to monitor homeless sex offenders.
"You don't know what they're doing or who they could be hurting next," she said.
The difficulty of monitoring homeless sex offenders is on the radar of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
"The fact that some sex offenders are getting around registration laws by claiming they are homeless is a serious problem. While it is ultimately up to local authorities to verify where each offender is living, we are working on a new effort that will help residents identify the homeless offenders who are really living in area neighborhoods," DeWine said.
In the meantime, Holland stressed that it's vital for the public to call the sheriff's department if they have information that a sex offender is living somewhere besides the address he has given to deputies.
"We are not permitted to refuse to register someone so if they say they're
homeless, we have to take them on their word," Holland said.