City Moves to Close 'Loophole' Exposed by Sex Offender Priest
By Scott Cooper Williams
Green Bay Press-Gazette
November 11, 2012
|The apartment building at 2258 Imperial Lane is one block away from VT Pride Park, where children attend a summer recreation program run by the city. / Scott Cooper Williams/Press-Gazette|
|Donald Buzanowski / Submitted|
A former Catholic priest convicted of sexually assaulting a young boy is living in a Green Bay apartment building despite a city board’s action prohibiting him from living there.
Donald Buzanowski, 69, who served seven years in prison, has moved into an apartment at 2258 Imperial Lane, about one block from a public park with playground equipment.
City officials say Buzanowski found a loophole in the city’s ordinance after the Sex Offender Residence Board this summer rejected his request to live in the Imperial Lane apartment.
The loophole stems from the fact that Buzanowski was convicted under a state law that is now outdated and, therefore, is not cited in the city ordinance as a reason for restricting where sex offenders can live in Green Bay.
Mayor Jim Schmitt vowed to close the loophole quickly and enforce it so that Buzanowski must move.
“I was quite upset when I heard this,” Schmitt said. “He needs to find a different place to live. We’re going to make sure that happens.”
Contacted at the Imperial Lane apartment, Buzanowski declined to comment.
As a Catholic priest in Green Bay during the late 1980s, Buzanowski sexually assaulted a fifth-grade boy from St. Peter and Paul Catholic School. Convicted in 2005, he was sentenced to 32 years in prison. Evidence presented in the case showed that he had been molesting young boys since the 1960s.
After winning early release from prison, Buzanowski in June petitioned the Green Bay Sex Offender Residence Board for permission to move to the Imperial Lane apartment building on the city’s far east side. The board rejected his request.
His state probation agent, Erin Murto, told board members at the time that her client would be forced to “roam around the city.” But after a couple of months in a state-run transitional living facility, Buzanowski moved to Imperial Lane in September.
The two-story building with eight apartments is about one block from VT Pride Park, where the city operates a summer recreation program for children.
Landlord Fred Bennett said he would never knowingly violate Green Bay’s sex offender law. But he said Murto, the probation agent, provided reassurances that the former Catholic priest was legally allowed to live there.
“I said, ‘Are you positive about that?’ And she said ‘Yes,’” Bennett recalled. “I took her word for that.”
Contacted at Buzanowski’s apartment during one of her regular check-ins with him, Murto declined to comment.
Last year, Murto acknowledged that one of her sex offender clients was living in Green Bay without city approval. The situation angered city officials and prompted them to consider overhauling or abandoning the city’s residency ordinance. But after months of debate, the ordinance remained largely unchanged.
The ordinance prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of any school, park or other place where children gather. That covers virtually the entire city. To live in any restricted area, an offender must first receive permission from the city’s residence board.
Linda Eggert, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said that when Buzanowski was granted an early release from prison this year, his case was reclassified in a way that fell under the old state law — and no longer was subject to Green Bay’s ordinance.
Murto checked with Green Bay city attorneys and verified the situation before her client moved to Imperial Lane, Eggert said. Asked about city officials’ contention that a loophole was being exploited, Eggert said: “They can call it whatever they want. All we know is our agent followed proper protocol.”
Assistant City Attorney Kail Decker said he has identified two other local sex offenders whose convictions date back to the same outdated state law.
Schmitt said he would ask the City Council to close the loophole within the next month or so.
Members of the city’s sex offender residence board said they were disappointed to learn that Buzanowski was living on Imperial Lane after the five-member board had voted against it.
“I was just shocked,” said board chairman Dean Gerondale, who noted that he had never before heard about the issue involving the old state law.
Board member Renee Keehan said she and others on the board felt it was “not right” that an offender could live someplace where they had specifically prohibited it.
“We were all upset,” Keehan said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it.”