In-depth: Are high-risk sex offenders really where they say they are?


ALAMEDA COUNTY (KRON) — In California, sex offenders have to register with law enforcement and stay current, or risk arrest.

But just because they register an address, doesn’t mean they’re actually living there.

The Alameda County SAFE Task Force doesn’t just crack down on people breaking the rules, they also check up on sex offenders to make sure they’re living where they say they are.

KRON4’s Maureen Kelly rode along with two SAFE Task Force sheriff’s deputies as they visited the homes of high-risk sex offenders.

What happens to sex offenders in violation of Megan’s Law?

“7979 MacArthur #10. Compliance check.”

The two deputies, who’ve asked to keep their faces hidden since they’re undercover, knocked on the door of an East Oakland home where a high-risk pedophile says he lives.

“He got his conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a child back in 2002 in Walnut Creek,” a deputy said. “It looks like the last time anyone recorded a check on him was in November of 2015. His mother said he still lived there but no one had face to face contact with him.”

Antonio Espanol has gone thru a psychological test that determined him to be high risk for re-offending.

“He’s high-risk,” according to a deputy. “He’s a nine out of ten.”

The deputies knocked on the door, but no one answered.

“She’s at work,” a neighbor informed the deputies.

“Does her son still live here?” a deputy asked the woman.

“Yep, he’s at school, I think,” she said.

The deputies continue to ask her questions and she tells them that she knows he’s registered and believes he lives there.

“Oh, confirmed by a neighbor,” said a deputy.

Despite not seeing him for themselves, the deputies are satisfied that Espanol is still living there.

“We’ll be fine with that and we’ll be back in a couple months,” said a deputy.


“She doesn’t like us talking about him but she knows he’s an offender so whether they want to talk about it or they don’t want to talk about it, in this particular guy’s case, it’s important people know,” a deputy added. “All together they can do a good job of keeping an eye on the guy. You know there are kids in this complex.”

Back in the patrol car, on the way to the next high-risk sex offender check, the deputies explain to Kelly the importance of checking up on sex offenders.

“The main reason that I’ve been told and I’ve come to learn is that there is no identified quote, unquote cure for sex offenders,” a deputy explained. “That it’s a predilection, a predisposition that’s part of their personality and the best way to manage sex offenders in our society, is to let them know that they are going to be checked on and that their behavior is going to be monitored. You hope that will act as a deterrent, to help them to keep from re-offending.”

Next, the deputies head to Ivory Buggs’ house in Oakland. Buggs was convicted back in 2006 of lewd and lascivious acts with a child. He’s been checked on before and found to be there, according to deputies.

However, this time deputies find something that doesn’t quite add up.

“Hello ma’am, we are looking for Mr. Ivory Buggs,” a deputy tells a woman who opened the front door.

“He’s not here but you can come in,” the woman answers.

“Does he still live here?” a deputy asks.

“Yes, he does,” she responds.

It turns out the woman who answered the door is Buggs’ mother. Inside, the deputies ask her more questions and take a look around.

“We are looking for any kind of illegal activity but we are also looking for signs of deception, such as they don’t really live there,” a deputy explains.

“In a house, we are looking to see if they do in fact live there. We are looking for clothes, for shoes that would match, mail to them, does it look like they actually stay there. Does he stay here every night?”

“Yeah, he does stay somewhere else sometimes,” his mother tells deputies. “He stays out with his friends on the weekend.”

“Oh, he stays with a friend,” said a deputy. “But he lives here. This is his address.”

His mother didn’t seem to mind the intrusion.

“That’s what they have to do,” Buggs’ mother, Gwendolyn Phipps, tells Kelly. “That’s what they have to do make sure they aren’t in the streets, I guess, being abusive to people, I guess.”

The deputies leave but outside they tell Kelly that they didn’t see much in the way of men’s clothes in the house, which has them suspicious.

“He may be just using the address and not actually living there,” said a deputy.

Outside the complex, the deputies run into the manager who has more information.

“So you know about him right?” a deputy asks the manager.

“I do. From Megan’s List, I do,” the manager tells deputies. “I check Megan’s List all the time because my kids are here. So he doesn’t live here but he comes and goes.”

“Why do you think she’s not telling us that he doesn’t live here?” a deputy asks.

“She doesn’t want him to go back to jail or something, she let him register in her house,” said the manager.

“Has she told you why she lets him register there?”

“She just said oh, don’t worry about him,” the manager tells the duties. “No, I’m going to worry about him because there are kids here.”

The manager, Sandy Try, tells Kelly she’s glad they are checking up on people like her tenant.

“They should be checked up on more often,” Try tells Kelly. “It’s a concern for everybody. I’ve told most of the parents here who he is and that he’s on Megan’s Law. And nobody likes it but, you know, we can’t make him move. I hope they find him because if he’s registered here then, obviously, he’s not here.”

What started as a simple compliance check is now a case that needs further looking into.

The task force will do a follow-up interview with Buggs to try and determine if he’s deliberating hiding his address from them or if it’s just unclear that he can register more than one address with law enforcement.

“It’s not that he’s completely not here, but he’s not here all the time which means he’s somewhere else, which means we want to know where that is,” a deputy said.

The deputies say in their experience roughly one in ten people they check up on are living somewhere other than where the California sex offender database says they are. And those lying about their address are in violation of Megan’s Law and are at risk for arrest.

A KRON4 investigation revealed that in Alameda County, nearly 200 of the over 1,700 posted on Megan’s Law during the month of April were in violation.

We did the same analysis for all of the Bay Area counties. Check the map below to find out how many violators are in your town:



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