THE “BIG REGISTRY:” THE BOOMING SEX OFFENDER INDUSTRY
Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com
Created November 21, 2009
“It is a very dangerous thing… Not only sex sells, but sex offenders sell .” Fear and loathing have generated big bucks in an otherwise bad economy. From iPhone apps to companies selling your personal information to those individuals advocating these laws, the sex offender business has become a major industry, raking in untold billions of dollars annually. Like all industries, however, those profiting from the sex offender registry have no real incentive to tell the public the truth about sex offenders and the laws affecting their lives. In fact, many of the organizations profiting from the sex offender industry lobby, misinform, and mislead the public.
Those profiting from the sex offender industry behave much like the industries involved in “Big Tobacco” and “Big Oil.” Powerful lobbyists pass laws to put money directly into their own pockets. The media largely ignores studies which reveal the negative impact of sex offender legislation, while efforts are made to suppress or “debunk” these studies. The media blasts high-profile but rare sex crimes incessantly over the airwaves, while celebrity advocates make public appeals for more support and money while spreading their own myths and lies. Thus, the sex offender registry could be described as “Big Registry.”
There is not currently any study which shows exactly how much Americans are spending on the sex offender registry. This article is not exhaustive. It is not impossible to determine an exact amount, but best left in the hands of researchers with far more time and money. The purpose of this article is to shed light on the many ways the sex offender industry is profiting from one of the most controversial and ineffective criminal justice methods ever devised and implemented.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY
The Big Registry generates big bucks for organizations that lobby for tough sex-crime legislation. Below are the budgets of two well-known organizations, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and Parents For Megan’s Law (PFML):
NCMEC Annual Report 2007 
Federal Funding – $29.8 million
Total Funds – $42.9 million
Other Contributions – $ 13.1 million
Expenses – $ 40.6 Million
2007 profit – $ 2.3 million
Total assets – $29.3 million
Ernie Allen’s Salary – $410k + $427k in benefits
John Walsh’s benefits – $38k
PFML tax form 2007 
Public support – $56,658
Govt Grants – $879,000
Total – $1.1 million
Expenses – $900,000
Profit – $210,000
Assets – $264,000
Ahern’s salary – $107,323
Almost 10% of total funds went to Ahern’s salary alone!
It is not surprising the heads of these “non-profit” organizations make large salaries. What is surprising, however, is that most of those “expenses” listed are all employee salaries and fundraising expenses. Below are the 2007 salaries of the heads of some of these organizations:
Salary comparisons 2007  :
Ernie Allen [NCMEC] $837k
Xavier Von Erck [Perverted-Justice] $120k
Laura Ahern [PFML] $107k
Mark Lunsford [Lunsford Foundation] $44k
Klaas Family [Klaas Kids] $46k
The NCMEC, the largest of the well-known “non-profit” organizations, has not been without controversy. The NCMEC does not physically search for children; local law enforcement agents search for children. Instead, the NCMEC distributes fliers of missing children (again, not physically), runs a fingerprinting and DNA campaign, and fundraises. The NCMEC, along with founder John Walsh was described as “cause-related marketing,” and “they don’t look for children, they look for money .” The NCMEC was founded under the myth of “50,000 missing children” every year, and criticisms of inflating statistics and misleading the public to generate profits still plague its nearly 30-year existence .
John Walsh, a founder of the NCMEC, collects a portion of their funding as compensation and for lobbying . In turn, the NCMEC stands to collect more government funds from the controversial Adam Walsh Act ; the Act also gives the NCMEC a great deal of immunity from lawsuits . Thus, it is no surprise John Walsh has staunchly advocated for funding the Adam Walsh Act  , even enlisting the help of Oprah Winfrey to campaign for funding the Act .
John Walsh has faced fierce criticism for propagating myths to the media and Congress, including testifying before Congress “1.5 million missing kids annually” and claiming our land is “littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped and strangled children” . Recently Walsh has been criticized from promoting the Adam Walsh Act, which allows teens as young as age 14 to be listed on the national sex offender registry . Despite the mounting criticisms and articles showing teens are indeed placed on the registry for consensual offenses, John Walsh still denies the AWA would do that, claiming it is only for those who “physically or violently offended someone and you’re a repeat offender.” In his recent interview, Walsh propagates another myth, claiming the registry has lost track of 100,000 “level three sex offenders” . The “100,000 missing sex offenders” claim is just one of the many myths used to justify high-priced, ineffective legislation.
LOBBYING THE INDUSTRY
With billions of dollars at stake, the Big Registry has relied on outlandish statistics and appeals to emotion that shock and scare the public . Inflated statistics, such as the “Goldilocks Number ,” are created to justify the need for their products. John Walsh had stated on ABC’s Nightline there are “100,000 missing level three sex offenders .” Chris Hansen of NBC Dateline’s controversial “To Catch a Predator” series claimed there were “50,000 internet predators” online at anyone time . Many of these inflated statistics can be found on various websites promoting their services, such as Family Watchdog and Klaas Kids. Where did these statistics come from? In the case of the 50,000 internet predator claim, apparently it was conjured out of thin air in order to promote a trashy quasi-reality show and shock the public .
The “100,000 missing predators” myth was derived from a flawed study by the group Parents For Megan’s Law (PFML). This study, conducted in 2002, relied on a telephone call to states to ask how many sex offenders were complying with registration requirements. Of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, only 32 states gave estimates, and the study estimated “roughly” 24% of the registrants did not comply, and since there were around 460,000 registrants in 2002, PFML estimated it at 100,000 . Flaws with the study were reported early; most states never audited their sex offender registries and gave only estimates of their accuracy, while 18 states and the District of Columbia gave no estimates at all . This did not stop PFML from releasing the seriously flawed study as statistical fact. And despite being thoroughly debunked, these myths are still cited on myriads of websites and media articles even today! It is worth noting that Laura Ahern, founder of Parents For Megan’s Law, also exploited local high-profile cases to gain national attention, and recently received a half-million dollar grant to create an email alert system .
Many of the sites that promote the Big Registry go beyond inflating (or creating) statistics; many actively attack or suppress valid studies that debunk the various myths these businesses propagate. In 2008, Maureen Kanka fought to have a research study proving Megan’s Law ineffective suppressed . Later, Kanka released a statement claiming Megan’s law was never intended to be a crime deterrent, claiming the purpose of the registry was to increase public awareness . Within 24 hours of the release of the Human Rights Watch report in 2007 on the negative impact of sex offender laws, Family Watchdog hastily created a blog on their website to “respond to” and debunk the report . Why would these organizations lobby so hard to debunk valid studies? The answer lies in the preferred method of promoting the Big Registry.
FEAR MONGERS AND TEAR JERKERS
Fear mongering and appeals to emotion have been the driving force behind the Big Registry since its inception.
The public registry came on the heels of the tragic case of Megan Kanka, with the claim, “If only we had known about sex offenders in our neighborhood, we could have prevented this case” . John Walsh frequently appeals to his deceased son in support of funding the Adam Walsh Act , even though his son was not killed by a registered sex offender or a pedophile . The reactions to such high-profile cases fueled by fear-laden media reports has been a nation of fearful “helicopter parents” . Based on the money pumped into the Big Registry, fear also sells .
Thin Air Wireless, creator of the controversial “Offender Locator” iPhone App, makes the ominous statement, “They know where you live. Now it’s time to turn the tables on them” . The App became one of the top sellers within days of its release . The founder of Thin Air Wireless, Howard “Trip” Wakefield, relies on fear mongering to justify using his product; he states in one article, “If I was going to take my child to the park and I see that the area is infested with child predators and I look up one that isn’t, I’m going to take them to the one that isn’t” . On the Offender Locator Facebook page, in addition to using scary avatars to pinpoint locations of registrants in the area, Trip claims by not using his product, you are “playing Russian Roulette with the safety of your loved ones” . Of course, this was only one of three so-called “Peace of Mind” products offered by Thin Air Wireless . The controversial App was temporarily suspended because selling personal information violated California law  . This has not stopped other organizations from boldly proclaiming sex offender information was “going corporate” .
Other organizations have jumped on the Big Registry bandwagon, including Offendar, a company offering devices that read GPS devices to warn of sex offenders in the area , Masonic chip implants for “identification purposes” , and even the Ku Klux Klan .
Perhaps no man has come under more criticism, scrutiny, and controversy than Mark Lunsford. The criticism of Lunsford and his “Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation” began to surface when Lunsford announced he was suing the Citrus County, FL Sheriff’s Office for the wrongful death of his daughter, Jessica. First came the feud with a local shock jock, who accused Lunsford of just suing “for the money” and questioned his spending habits , then came scrutiny from the local media on how Lunsford’s foundation spent the donation money and used donated equipment, most of which was never reported to the IRS . Amid the controversy, the Lunsford Foundation disbanded, and Lunsford began collecting a paycheck from Hank Asher, the former drug-runner turned multimillionaire information seller. After Lunsford disbanded his foundation, around $400,000 in assets were unaccounted for, and former members of his Board of Directors have claimed Lunsford pocketed the money, living like a “rock star.” Mark Klaas, while claiming never to be paid by a for-profit industry, applauded Lunsford’s work with Asher . Lunsford, as a board member of the group Stop Child Predators, is also partnered with Thin Air Wireless .
STATE OF THE ECONOMY
Individuals and businesses are not the only entities looking to cash in on the Big Registry. The federal government earmarks millions of dollars in grants to various local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as private business (such as therapists) working in the criminal justice system. Decisions to not enforce certain laws, like the Adam Walsh Act, mean law enforcement agencies fighting for a share of JAG/Byrne grants could lose 10% of those funds . Below are just a few ways in which law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies are exploiting the laws to generate profits.
States get federal funding for the registry under SOMA based on the number of offenders on the state registry. Thus, it came as little surprise when it was reported Florida’s public registry listed 541 dead sex offenders, 807 deported offenders, 7173 out of state offenders, and 8260 incarcerated offenders on the state’s public registry, roughly half of the reported 36,000 registrants for the year 2005 . Ironically, this is the state Parents For Megan’s Law considers Florida one of the “highest compliance rates”  and has given the grade “A+” for their registry . Another growing trend is law enforcement agencies forcing registrants to pay registration fees to supplement costs already covered in the law enforcement grant .
Civil commitment has been a costly method of incarcerating individuals long after their prison sentences are completed. Costs to keep registrants in civil commitment centers range from $32,000 to $180,000 per year per registrant . Out of over 3000 in civil commitment centers across the country, only 50 have “graduated” from a program, while double the amount were released due to other factors . One sex offender cost the state over $600,000 to keep in a civil commitment center for a year and a half after the doctors cleared him for release . The Minnesota civil commitment program also came under fire after spending over $70 million on their program while releasing no one from their programs. The program saw great increases in the committed population following the Dru Sjodin murder .
Adam Walsh Act
The Adam Walsh Act must implemented by June 2010 or face a 10% cut in Jag/ Byrne law enforcement funding . Also at stake are millions of dollars to assorted programs such as Fugitive Safe Surrender, child fingerprinting programs, registration compliance programs, and other sex offender-related programs, as well as Big Brothers Big Sisters . However, as evidenced from John Walsh’s lobbying for funding, the Adam Walsh Act is a largely unfunded mandate, which may influence states’ decisions on whether or not to implement this asinine bill. When Ohio passed their version of the Act, SB10, it found the Federal government only had $25 million in funding to divide amongst 56 US states and territories, while the cost of making the small changes to the registry to become compliant with the Act alone was around a half million dollars. This did not include upkeep, court costs and potential lawsuits, and mandatory minimums, which were all considered but no solid figures given . If indeed the Adam Walsh Act was to receive full funding for all its included programs, would states still adopt the Act? It would take billions of tax dollars to pay for new registries, civil commitment, GPS pilot programs, mandatory minimums, Title 6 funding, and other provisions of the Adam Walsh Act.
Speaking of GPS, the program has become heralded as a “valuable” tool in the efforts to track registrants. In one such program in Massachusetts, the cost of monitoring individuals on GPS was $10 per day per offender in 2004, or $3650 per year . In 2009 the same state reported it cost $6 million to track the 359 offenders plus 250 suspects awaiting trial, including the cost of false alarms, or an average cost of $9852.22 per offender . False alarms and faulty devices have been a common problem, a problem that will likely increase as outdated GPS satellites begin to fail as early as 2010 . This fact has not stopped businesses from hocking GPS devices to states as demand for the devices increase .
The Big Registry is a booming business, bucking the trends of even the deep recession of 2008-2009. With billions of dollars at stake, celebrity advocates, private businesses, and even government and law enforcement agencies propagate fear, misleading statistics, and outright lies to promote their ventures. Lobbying and mass advertising for these ventures promote fear based laws that generate big buck for social programs that use their services. Any studies and arguments to the contrary are conveniently ignored by the mass media, and effective social programs are ignored in favor of ineffective laws that generate publicity, votes, and most of all, money. Much like Big Oil and Big Tobacco, the Big Registry has convinced the public these laws are not dangerous, but a necessary product for our culture. However, the negative impact of these laws is proving the Big Registry is indeed as deceptive and dangerous as the other “Big” businesses.
- Derek Logue quote from Oren Yaniv, “New iPhone app, Offender Locator, uses GPS to locate sex offenders near where users live.” New York Daily News, August 3, 2009.www.nydailynews.com/tech_guide/2009/08/03/2009-08–03_new_iphone_app_offender_locator_uses_gps_to_locate_registered_sex_offenders_near.html, Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- From www.guidestar.org, a site that publishes the tax forms of all non-profit organizations
- John Edward Gill, “Missing Children: How ‘Cause-related’ Marketing has fueled the scandal.” Fathermag.com, 2000. http://www.fathermag.com/002/missing-children/, Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- John Edward Gill, “Missing Children.” FatherMag.com, 2000. http://www.fathermag.com/005/missing-children/, retrieved April 5, 2008
- See the 2006 and 2007 NCMEC tax forms at www.guidestar.org
- Adam Walsh Act, section 629
- Adam Walsh Act, section 130.
- John Walsh, “Let’s call on Congress to fund the Adam Walsh Act.” AMW.com, Sept. 27, 2007. http://safety.amw.com/community/john-walsh-lets-call-on-congress-to-fund-the-adam-walsh-act/, retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- “Help get funding now for the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.” Oprah.com, 2009, http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow/20090220-tows-adam-walsh-act, Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- Amanda Rogers, “Inflating numbers and exploiting the issues while making millions off taxpayers.” Operation Awareness, http://www.operationawareness.com/about_5.html, retrieved November 20, 2009; John Edward Gill, “How politics helped start the scandal of missing children.” FatherMag.com, 2000, http://www.fathermag.com/006/missing-children/abduction_3.shtml, Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- Scott Michels, “Should 14 years have to register as sex offenders?” ABC News, August 16, 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3483364&page=1, Retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- Ryan Owens and Claire Pedersen, “The man behind ‘America’s Most Wanted’.” ABC Nightline, Nov. 13, 2009. http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=8987171, retrieved Nov. 20, 2009
- See Derek Logue, “Sex Offender Myths: The Foundation for Sex Offender Laws.” www.oncefallen.com/SOmyths, 2007.
- Brook Gladstone, “On the Media: Prime Number.” NPR/ WNYC radio, May 26, 2006, www.onthemedia.org/yore/transcripts/transcripts_052606_primenumber.html, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
- Owens and Pedersen, “The Man Behind AMW.”
- Benjamin Radford, “Predator Panic: A closer look.” Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./ Oct. 2006. www.csicop.org/si/2006-05/panic.html, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
- eAdvocate, “The saga of 100,000 missing sex offenders: Now the truth.” Sex Offender Reports, Charts, and Other Papers by a Voice of Reason, May 31, 2009.
- “Thousands of Sex Offenders ‘Lost’.” CBS News, Feb. 6, 2003. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/06/national/main539717.shtml
- Corey Kilgannon. “Woman with a mission: Keeping tabs on sex offenders.” New York Times, March 8, 2008
- As noted on an announcement at www.operationawareness.com, Retrieved Feb. 10, 2009
- Adrienne Lu, “Megan’s law ineffective, study says.” The Philadelphia Enquirer, Feb. 7, 2009, http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/20090207_Megan_s_Law_ineffective__study_says.html, Retrieved Feb. 9, 2009
- http://www.familywatchdog.us/BlogList.asp, Retrieved April 6, 2008
- Derek Logue, “Registries Revisited.” www.oncefallen.com, Feb. 2, 2009
- Owens and Pedersen, “The Man Behind AMW.”
- See Matt Sedensky, “Case closed? Questions linger in Adam Walsh probe.” AP, Yahoo! News, Dec. 19, 2008; Pat Brown, “The Adam Walsh Case: Closed, but not solved.” Women In Crime Ink, Dec. 19, 2008
- Michael Kruse, “After Adam Walsh, a dose of caution.” Tampa Bay Online, Dec. 19, 2008. http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/article943782.ece, Retrieved Dec. 20, 2008
- Steve Rendall, “The Online Predator Scare.” Fair.org, April 2009; Paul Campos, “CAMPOS: A nation of hysterics.” Rocky Mountain News, April 30, 2008.
- http://govision2020.com/OffenderLocator.html, retrieved Aug. 6, 2009
- Yaniv, “New iPhone app”
- Kayce Ataiyero, “Offender Locator: iPhone app lets you search for nearby sex offenders while you’re on the go.” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2009. http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-talk-iphone-sex-offender-appjul30, 0,7276048.story, Retrieved July 30, 2009
- http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=71764330109&v=app_6261817190&view, Retrieved July 28, 2009
- Adam Mills, “Apple pulls another popular application from the App store.” Examiner.com, August 6, 2009
- “Convicted sex offender data goes corporate.” PR Web, July 29, 2009.
- “Michigan Child Identification Program.” Grand Lodge of Michigan, 2008. http://www.gl-mi.org/michigan-child-identification-program.htm, Retrieved Aug. 8, 2009
- Jill Monier, “KKK Recruiting with Sex Offender Flyers.” My Fox Memphis, July 9, 2009
- “Mark Lunsford versus Bubba the Love Sponge.” Bay News 9, Feb. 29, 2008. http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2008/2/28/328445.html, Retrieved April 28, 2008
- John Frank, “Flawed management plagues Lunsford’s foundation.” St. Petersburg Times, March 29, 2008. http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/civil/article435712.ece, Retrieved April 4, 2009
- Susan Taylor Martin, “Lunsford’s finances raises questions.” St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 6, 2009.
- “ThinAir Wireless Strengthens Partnership With Stop Child Predators to Immobilize Sex Offenders” PR News, August 7, 2009, http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/08-07-2009/0005074103&EDATE=, Retrieved Aug. 8, 2009
- See Derek Logue, “Adam Walsh Act Study Guide.” www.oncefallen.com, January 28, 2008
- James Carlson, “Ghosts in the machine: Are dead sex offenders really that dangerous?” Orlando Weekly, Nov. 24, 2005
- AP, “Florida among best on Megan’s law data.” St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 7, 2003. http://www.sptimes.com/2003/02/07/news_pf/Worldandnation/Florida_among_best_on.shtml, Retrieved April 28, 2008
- “Nationwide Registries and Links.” PFML, 2008. http://www.parentsformeganslaw.com/html/links.lasso
- Megan Stembol and Lindsay Dewitte, “Sex offenders to pay registry fee?” WANE.com, Aug. 27, 2009
- “A Profile of Civil Commitment around the Country.” [Chart] New York Times, March 3, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/03/03/us/20070304_CIVIL_GRAPHIC.html, Retrieved May 8, 2009
- Monica Davey and Abby Goodnough, “Doubts Rise as States Hold Sex Offenders After Prison.” New York Times, March 4, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/us/04civil.html, Retrieved May 8, 2009
- Ted Hesson and Steve Lieberman. “Sex offender’s upkeep: $661G and counting.” The Journal News, Oct. 26, 2008. http://www.lohud.com/article/2008810260387, Retrieved Oct. 27, 2008
- Paul Demko, “Minnesota Sex Offender program costs $70 million a year but rehabilitates no one.” The Minnesota Independent, Nov. 13, 2009
- Adam Walsh Act Sec. 125; states were granted a one-year extension from the original 2009 deadline
- Adam Walsh Act Title VI
- Elise Castelli, “Global positioning to track sex offenders.” Boston Globe, Sept. 21, 2004.
- WCBV Channel 5, Boston, www.thebostonchannel.com/news/17925840/detail.html
- Fox News, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,520636,00.html?test=latestnews
- See also Derek Logue, “GPS Fact Guide and Sample Letter.” www.oncefallen.com, 2008