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Brittany Lawonn, Published September 12 2007

Finding apartment a challenge for offender

Convicted sex offender Jeffrey Theisen hears a lot of jokes about how he’s living in a car.

But he’s not laughing.

“I sleep in the back seat; I got three pillows and two blankets,” Theisen said Tuesday.

Theisen is one of two convicted sex offenders out of 129 living in Fargo and required to register who have told police they cannot find a place to live, said police Lt. Pat Claus.

Sex offenders who are still on parole or probation are often required to list a permanent address, Claus said. Such addresses are not required for most sex offenders because they are no longer on parole or probation, he said.

“They paid their debt to society,” Claus said. “The law requires them to report where they’re staying, but the law doesn’t require that they have a place to stay.”

But finding a place that rents to sex offenders is difficult, Theisen said.

“There’s two people in town that aren’t discriminating against sex offenders and not everybody has money to get into those places or they don’t always have places available,” Theisen said.

Amy Nelson, executive director of Fair Housing of the Dakotas, said it’s not illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to sex offenders because an individual’s criminal record is not protected under housing discrimination laws.

“It might not be fair, but it’s not illegal for a housing provider to do that,” she said.

Pete Sabo of Fargo said he rents to sex offenders because there are various reasons why people are sex offenders.

“A lot of these are really good productive people and they did pay their debt to society and they did their time,” Sabo said.

Theisen said while his living situation is frustrating, dealing with the stigma of being a sex offender is also discouraging.

“People make mistakes,” he said. “I’m not a repeat offender.”

But Theisen, 24, is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

When he was 14 years old, he was convicted of gross sexual imposition for an incident involving a girl under the age of 15 that he knew.

“I was pretty much doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing,” Theisen said of the incident, without further explanation. He said it stemmed from sexual abuse he himself experienced.

Tracy Berg, who baby-sat Theisen when he was a child, was convicted of two counts of gross sexual imposition in 1998 for incidents involving Theisen and five other children she watched, according to Cass County District Court documents.

One of the boys was as young as 3 when he was molested, court records show.

Theisen declined to comment further on what happened.

The Forum could not independently obtain such information because juvenile records are sealed.

Theisen said he is looking for a new apartment so he can move out of his car and into a residence more permanent than the white 1996 Mercury Cougar parked in the 1700 block of 49th Street South.

He said he may attend a meeting conducted by the Fargo Police Department tonight to discuss his and two other high-risk sex offenders’ relocations, but he is unsure if he will say anything if he goes.

“A lot of people aren’t very understanding,” Theisen said. “They just see sex offender and automatically assume that I’m a pedophile.”

If you go

- What: Informational meeting on three high-risk, or Level III, sex offenders with new Fargo addresses

- When: 7 tonight

- Where: Civic Center’s main auditorium, 207 4th St. N.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541