Aurora mayor defends effort to move child sex offenders out of Wayside Ministries

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is defending a decision to give child sex offenders a deadline to move out of Wayside Cross Ministries, which the city says is too close to a playground.

Aurora police on Friday issued notices of violation of the Sex Offender Registration Act to 19 men who live at Wayside Cross, at 215 E. New York St. The letters informed the men that they have until Jan. 15 to move to a residence compliant with state law, which prohibits child sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of a playground.

"This not a city ordinance or some whim of the administration," Irvin told reporters on Tuesday. "This is a state law put in place for the protection of innocent children. Aurora didn't initiate it. But the Aurora Police Department is obligated to uphold the law by monitoring child sex offenders and confirming the legality of their residence."

Meanwhile, one of the lawyers representing the 19 residents said he's disappointed the notices were sent.

"We think they (city officials) are misapplying the law," attorney Mark Weinberg said Tuesday. "If they're not misapplying the law, we think the law is a horrible law that is counterproductive and makes communities less safe."

Wayside Cross is near McCarty Park, which is at 350 E. Galena Blvd. In late June, the city said it had remeasured the distance and found it to be less than 500 feet.

Aurora police then issued 30-day notices giving the men until July 26, or in one man's case, until August, to move. But the men were allowed to remain pending the outcome of a federal lawsuit filed against the city.

Weinberg said the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed in late October after it was decided the case should first be heard by a state court.

"We dismissed the federal lawsuit with the understanding that the 19 guys we represent would be allowed to stay and practice their religious commitments at Wayside," he said.

Then the new notices were issued last week.

"It was a surprise to us," Weinberg said. "We didn't think that they were going to do this."

But Irvin said city officials were shocked about a year ago when they learned that child sex offenders were living at Wayside Cross.

"For 90 years Wayside has operated in Aurora and is well-known for its ability to help people get a better handle on life," Irvin said. "For many of those years, it was those who possibly face alcoholism, drugs or mental health issues.

"I don't know when or how child sex offenders were added to the list," said Irvin, adding the city "wasn't part of that discussion."

After it was determined that McCarty Park was a playground - and located within 500 feet of Wayside Cross - city officials in February 2019 asked Wayside not to take in child sex offenders.

"Since that initial conversation," Irvin said, "Wayside has admitted an additional six predatory child sex offenders."

James Lukose, executive director of Wayside Cross, declined to comment on Tuesday.

Irvin said the city was "blindsided" in late March when it became known that convicted "Ripper Crew" murderer Thomas Kokoraleis was going to live at Wayside. But the mayor stressed the decision to ask child sex offenders to leave wasn't made because the shelter took in Kokoraleis.

"The child sex offender issue predates Kokoraleis being in Aurora," he said. "And one issue has nothing to do with the other."

An Aurora police spokesman said new notices were issued after the Kane County state's attorney's office agreed that McCarty Park is a playground, as defined by state law, and that Wayside Cross' location is within 500 feet of that playground.

After Jan. 15, officials said, police will notify the state's attorney's office if any of the child sex offenders still resides at Wayside Cross. At that time, prosecution could begin.

"The Aurora Police Department can't look the other way with respect to what Illinois deems to be a felony offense," Irvin said. "We can't look the other way. It's the law."

Weinberg said the residents are planning to file a lawsuit in Kane County and seek an injunction that would prevent the deadline from being enforced until after the case is resolved.

"If we're not able to stop the city's efforts," Weinberg said, "these people are going to be forced into homelessness in the middle of winter."

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