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Unmarked Sex Offender Treatment Center Right Near Local Schools
ALBANY - On a busy street in a busy neighborhood, stands an unassuming white house. To a passerby it blends right in but whats been going on inside for more than 20 years isn't what you would consider ordinary. I'm like really, really, really shocked about this, really shocked, says Robert Bailey, a college student who rents one of the apartments in the upstairs of the home. He says he was told there's a doctors office downstairs and thats true, its just not the whole truth.
CBS6 has learned that this doctor, treats violent sex offenders, dozens of them who are on parole and probation. They hang out on the porch all the time and I had no idea, I really had no idea so it's kind of like awkward now, now that I think about it, Bailey said after being told about the nature of the practice by CBS6 Investigative Reporter, Jennifer Lewke. Adam Defransico, a St. Rose College Student, rents out the other apartment in the upstairs of the home, he had no idea what kind of treatment was happening downstairs either. There's no signs out front, there's nothing saying like hey, this is where sex offenders come for rehabilitation so it's not advertised that well, I'd walk by and think it's just a regular house, he says.
Its not just that the sex offender treatment center is unmarked, it sits at 437 Western Avenue which is just a block away from the LaSalle School, a residential treatment center for adolescent boys, right next to the College of St. Rose, right across the street from an Episcopal Church that provides music lessons to middle school-aged kids and directly in front of St. Catherines Center for Children, an elementary school serving kids whove been emotionally and physically abused, neglected or homeless. Kids come out of there every day and these guys are coming in and out every day, its kinda scary to think because they could just walk right out of the backyard or right around the corner, says Defransico.
Bill Getman runs St. Catherines and tells CBS6 he had no idea that the home located in front of the school was being used as an outpatient treatment center for sex offenders. that location has always been very quietall I care about it making sure our staff and kids are safe, he says. In fact, none of the schools or the church that surround this center knew it was there but the Federal, State and County government did. Theyve all been sending some of the most violent sex offenders for treatment there for years.
The US Probation Department wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview but Matthew Brown, the regional agent in charge told CBS6 that the department has had a contract to send recently released sex offenders to Forensic Mental Health Associates which is the name of the business according to official paperwork although its not visible on the building, for many years. The agencys most recent 3-year contract with the practice ends in April. Currently, according to Brown, there are more than 40 offenders that attend mostly group sessions at this practice. When asked whether the department was aware of how close the outpatient center is to the schools, Brown said, We dont care where it is, as long as its licensed.
The doctor who runs the practice is Bianca Schaefer, she is licensed to practice in New York State but when CBS6 called Albany City Codes to see whether she needed or was ever granted a permit to be doing this type of treatment in the middle of a neighborhood near schools, the Director of Codes, Jeff Jamison, looked up the file and then issued a cease and desist order on the practice. Jamison says in the early 80s a home-use permit was applied for by Schaefers late husband Dr. Richard Hamill. The city approved the permit at the time but it required the doctor live in the home that he is practicing out of. Dr. Schaefer does not live at the Western Ave. location.
Albany County refers nearly all of its probationers to Forensic Mental Health Associates. When asked whether he was aware of the location of the practice and its proximity to schools, County Executive Dan McCoy said he was not, they (sex offenders) should not be in those areas, we have to make sure this company that we're dealing with is licensed to be there, that everything is legit and I can assure you that we're going to follow through on this. When asked whether that accountability should have happened before the county entered into an agreement with the practice, McCoy said, Yes, but this is a long term agreement, this goes back to my predecessor, so this is before I even became county executive that they've been dealing with for many many years. So, I'm going to address that now though. McCoy says hes working with Dr. Schaefer on the paperwork issues and hes asking her to move the county offenders to another site, one that is not in the middle of a bustling neighborhood full of kids and college students.
In the past, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has referred some of its sex offenders on parole to this location but a spokesperson tells CBS6 they currently do not have any parolees attending treatment there.
CBS6 reached out to Dr. Schaefer several times but she was not at the practice when we visited and did not return our phone calls. Because of the code issues our investigation exposed, CBS6 has learned that Forensic Mental Health Associates has moved, at least temporarily, to another location.