25 Investigates

Hundreds of ‘very dangerous sex offenders' removed from registry

BOSTON — Hundreds of sex offenders were removed from the public registry after a ruling in December by the state’s highest court and FOX25 Investigates discovered one of those convicted sex offenders is charged with sexually assaulting a Malden woman in the elevator of her apartment building while out of the public eye.

Court records obtained by FOX25 show Paul Donato, a homeless man, followed the woman into the elevator and distracted her by telling her she had a “bug” on her head. Donato made a move to remove it and for 60 seconds “kept touching each of her braids as if the bug was crawling around,” police reports uncovered by FOX25 Investigates show.

When they reached the top floor, Donato allegedly told the victim the bug “fell off” and the victim told police Donato walked away and made what she thought was a fake cell phone call, according to court records.

That’s when the victim noticed spots on the back of her shorts and realized she had been the victim of a sex crime, according to police, who arrested Donato later that night.

FOX25 Investigates has learned that Donato is one of hundreds of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders who are living out of the public eye and off the registry list.

That’s because the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court raised the legal standard used to classify convicted sex offenders – a move that entitled about 500 offenders to be removed from all public lists while awaiting new hearings. Authorities say that process could take years.

FOX25 uncovered court records revealing Donato was arrested in 2011 for failure to register as a Level 3 sex offender.

But at the time of the reported elevator assault, Donato was not listed on any public sex offender database.

“It’s a gap in public safety in a most serious sense of that word because the Level 3s are the ones who will offend again,” said victims’ advocate Wendy Murphy. “We're talking about hundreds of very dangerous sex offenders right now walking around, off the radar – totally off the radar. And by radar I mean off the list – a list the public has a right to see.”

Eric Tennen, a Boston attorney who represents sex offenders who are trying to get their levels lowered, praises the court ruling and told FOX25 too many sex offenders were being wrongly classified at higher levels.

“I think the public is a little outraged by this decision, but wrongly so,” said Tennen. “For these people who are getting a new hearing, it’s no different than any other case where someone gets a new hearing.”

Paul Donato is behind bars awaiting trial. His attorney declined to speak with FOX25.

Meanwhile, the Sex Offender Registry Board has hired four new hearing examiners and already reclassified 182 offenders, but at last count there are still more than 300 waiting for new hearings and off the public databases.

“Every minute of delay is a minute when a very dangerous Level 3 sex offender is going to offend again and again and again,” said Murphy “And the public won't know to be more aware or to be careful.”