Parents and elected officials say it’s time to change the law after a convicted sex offender from Whitestone allegedly was up to his old tricks at St. Mel’s School in Flushing.
Joseph Denice, 24, of 15th Avenue was paroled in September after serving part of a six-month sentence for forging documents and sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy. Unnamed sources corroborated that the youth attended IS 25 in Flushing, where Denice was an intern, but also knew him from St. Kevin’s Church, where the sex offender also volunteered in an after-school program.
Denice admitted to abusing the boy from July to September 2009 and was sentenced in June 2010 as a Level 1 registered sex offender.
Level 1 offenders are considered low risk for a repeat offense and must register for a minimum of 20 years. Level 2 and 3 offenders must register for life.
According to parents at St. Mel’s, Denice began working in the after-school program there last fall. He allegedly contacted a child at the school on Facebook, but the parents found out and reported him. Using Facebook to contact a child is against St. Mel’s policy.
Dorian Mecir, who has two children at St. Mel’s, a first-grader and a fifth-grader, is incensed that a convicted registered sex offender was able to work in a school. “Thank God the parents found out and stopped it,” Mecir said. “Luckily, nothing happened at St. Mel’s, but the diocese should have found out.”
Denice, a volunteer religious instructor at the Flushing parochial school, was let go last week. Monsignor Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said Monday that Denice is very manipulative and the church depends on the vigilance of parents, like the ones at St. Mel’s, to root out such offenders.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) was informed by St. Mel’s parents about the incident and wants to eliminate the loopholes in state law that lets someone like Denice fall through the cracks. “He is a Level 1 offender, which means he is not on the state’s registry, so parents can’t find him online,” Avella said.
Diocesan officials indicated that a background check on Denice was done in 2005, but that church workers did not do a followup after his release from prison last fall.
“The diocese is working with me and we are still getting facts,” the senator said. “But the law should be changed so that Level 1 offenders are on the state website.”
Harrington said that Denice previously volunteered at St. Luke’s in Whitestone, about two years ago, but was let go after parents became concerned about his honesty and being too friendly with the children. However, nobody has come forward citing abuse there or at St. Kevin’s, the monsignor said.
Nevertheless, the diocese announced that it will hold sessions for parents at each parish led by trained professionals who are victim assistance coordinators.
In addition, Harrington said the vicar for Queens told St. Mel’s parishioners during Sunday Masses about the upcoming meeting there. But Mecir, who did not attend that day, said she has not been officially notified about the meeting.
“Someone didn’t do their job in screening Denice,” she said. “He was looking for a victim. We are all disturbed about the screening process and want some answers.”
She called the sex offender “a very sick individual” who was “very good at working the system.”
Avella agrees. “He was very clever and told such big lies that people fell for them,” he said, referring to the IS 25 case that landed Denice in jail.
According to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, Denice forged letters from made-up judges saying the boy needed to have a body scan as part of an investigation by the Administration for Children’s Services.
Over a three-month period, Denice visited the youth at his home, made him undress to his underwear and fondled him.
Kevin Ryan, a spokesman at the DA’s office, said the Department of Parole has been informed about the St. Mel’s incident and is investigating whether Denice violated his probation. “If he did, he could go back to jail,” Ryan said.
Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) called the St. Mel’s episode “outrageous. We should not have sex offenders working with our children.”
He is promoting two bills that would require those on the state sex offender registry not be allowed to have contact with children and another that would allow local enforcement the access to Level 1 offenders.
Meanwhile, the diocese has pledged to keep examining its policies on child sexual abuse. “We will continue to take all possible steps to keep the young in our care safe,” Harrington said.
Denice reportedly lives at home with his mother and is a graduate of St. Luke’s. He could not be reached for comment.