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Last year, after the gruesome murder of Jessica Lunsford by a convicted sex offender, the City of Miami Beach decided to do something revolutionary. Even though Florida law already prohibited registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, Miami Beach decided to make it illegal for any registered sex offender to live within 2,500 feet nearly half a mile of any school, day care center, public school bus stop, park, or playground within city limits. It was the biggest buffer zone ever required between sex offenders and children, but soon almost every municipality in South Florida, including most independent cities in Broward County, followed suit. Today, only a handful of Broward cities, including Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, don't have similar ordinances.
And that means that if you take out a marker and draw 2,500-foot circles around every park, school, and bus stop in a city like Weston or Tamarac that has such an ordinance and then color all those circles in, you're left with a map that is almost entirely inked out.
For someone like Thomas Lacorazza, that means it's incredibly difficult to find a place to live.
The 23-year-old registered sexual offender from Weston recently became the first offender in Broward County to resist a residence restriction. In 2002, when Lacorazza was 18, he and his 13-year-old girlfriend of six months had sex. Soon afterward, Lacorazza thought she might be cheating on him.
"Since I was friends with her parents," he says now, "I thought that if I told her parents that we'd had sex, they'd stop her."
The girl's parents responded to the news by taking her to a psychiatrist, who told them that, by law, he was required to report Lacorazza to the police for having sexual contact with a minor. Lacorazza was arrested, tried, and found guilty of lewd and lascivious battery and molestation of a person between 12 and 16 years of age.
After his conviction, Lacorazza continued living with his grandparents and working for the family business run by an aunt. He ran into more trouble a DUI while he was on probation, which was enough to send him to the Broward County Jail in early 2005. While he was incarcerated, Weston passed its residence requirement for sex offenders.
When Lacorazza was released from jail in August, he planned to return home to Weston to live with his grandparents. No one at the Department of Corrections, which approves the residences of sex offenders, raised an objection about his moving back to his old address. But once Weston's code enforcement officers learned that Lacorazza had moved home, they soon found a school bus stop that was only 283 feet from the home of Thomas Timpanaro, Lacorazza's grandfather, and issued a citation.
Most Broward sex offenders don't resist when they're asked to get out of town. But two weeks ago, in front of a special magistrate for the City of Weston, Lacorazza and his family argued that because Lacorazza had lived near the bus stop and a neighboring school before the law was passed, he should not be subject to it. In other words, he was grandfathered at his grandfather's.
"He is not a predator, he is not a pedophile, he is not a danger to himself, and he is not a danger to anyone else. It was consensual; it was his girlfriend at the time," said Timpanaro, his grandfather. "When he was released from jail, he had to have a residence to go to. And we knew, with the probation officer, that he was coming back to our home."
But the magistrate ruled that while Lacorazza was in jail, he had forfeited his residence in Weston. If Lacorazza doesn't move out by January 1, he and his grandparents will each be charged $150 per day for violating city code.
"What he did with this girl, in the eyes of the law, was wrong. But he's not a predator just give me a break," Timpanaro said after the hearing. "To me, it just doesn't make any sense. What the city has done is effectively prohibited anybody, no matter the offense, from living in the City of Weston."
But in comparison to many registered sex offenders in Broward County, Thomas Lacorazza has it easy. This is only the first time he's been kicked out of his home.
Mike, a registered sex offender living in Broward County who would give only his first name, has been forced to move four times in the past three years. Caught soliciting sex from an undercover sheriff's deputy posing online as a 16-year-old, Mike has been spending thousands of dollars on moving costs as a registered sexual offender ever since.
"It's very expensive," he says. "Everything I make, I've been spending on attorneys and security deposits."
He's had his car keyed and his tires slashed. Once, he was removed from a complex that contained only adults to a neighborhood with young children living in houses on either side of him because the adult complex was too close to a community swimming pool. Another time, he spent only four days in an apartment because a police officer came into his building every night to pound on his door.