- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

DALLAS — Texas Gov. Rick Perry says the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s failure to swiftly identify sex offenders and violent criminals among hurricane refugees in his state has jeopardized Texas residents.

Meanwhile, Louisiana State Police (LSP) say only 70 of the 1,340 sex offenders from Louisiana’s hardest hit parishes (Orleans, St. Bernard, Jefferson and Plaquemines) have registered up-to-date addresses and contact information.

“In fairness, some lived in homes that were not affected by Katrina or Rita, so some probably have just gone home. They would not be required to check in with us,” Sgt. Catherine Flinchum, said an LSP spokeswoman.

Sgt. Flinchum said LSP sex offender databases have been shared with FEMA, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.

Mr. Perry, a Republican, said FEMA has just recently agreed to check the names of Louisiana sex offenders against the list of evacuees in various Texas shelters or apartments. Texas made that request weeks ago and had even supplied the registration list more than two weeks ago.

Steve McCraw, Texas homeland security chief, said FEMA officials had refused to share its database because of “concerns about privacy.”

Mr. Perry told The Washington Times he had no knowledge of any of the hundreds of thousands of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita evacuees having committed crimes in Texas, but quickly added:

“But we wouldn’t necessarily know it because that information hasn’t been shared with us. You may have someone who has broken a law in the state of Texas, who has either been apprehended or is being held, but we don’t know they are a prior sexual offender.”

The governor, who earlier this week complained about the problem in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, said he thought Mr. Chertoff “understood” the situation after talking personally with him in Washington two weeks ago.

“We did not pass the laws — both at the federal and the state level — to identify and to track sexual predators without reason,” said Mr. Perry. “Any state or federal agency should have the courtesy and the professionalism to share that information. If the message is, ‘We don’t trust you with that information, Texas,’ then I will be highly offended.”

FEMA did not return calls for comment.

Andy Kahan, director of the mayor’s crime victims office in Houston, called the situation “an unprecedented nightmare.” He said, “We know there are a lot of bad guys out there, but we don’t know who they are or where they are.”

A recent Houston slaying added even more anxiety to the problem.

A Houston Chronicle story earlier this week told of the killing of an elderly Pasadena woman, who reportedly had befriended three hurricane evacuees.

The article stated that Betty Blair, 77, had been robbed and killed by a young couple and a career criminal with a lengthy record, all of whom had evacuated their Beaumont-area home before the ravages of Hurricane Rita.

A Beaumont officer told the newspaper the address where the three had recently lived had been untouched by the hurricane. And a Louisiana sheriff, Jerry J. Larpenter of Terrebonne Parish — who had detained the older suspect several times for burglary and theft since 1982 — said the man was, indeed, not an evacuee.

“Maybe they just posed as evacuees to get benefits,” said Mr. McCraw. “After all, they are criminals.”

He said that, to his knowledge, the only other crime tied to evacuees was an attempted rape in Fort Worth.

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