CROSBY - Almost a year ago, Eugene Allen Wgeishofski moved into Ironton to live with relatives. Residents knew nothing about his past as a convicted rapist and Level 3 predatory offender.
On Wednesday night, the public was afforded the first community notification meeting regarding Wgeishofski's past, and more than 100 people filled about two-thirds of Crosby-Ironton High School's Mayberry Auditorium to learn about the man twice convicted for rape in the early 1980s in Washington state.
Wgeishofski, 54, is living at a residence on Seventh Avenue in Ironton.
One person asking questions was Linda Walker, mother of Dru Sjodin, who in 2003 was abducted in Grand Forks, N.D., by predatory offender Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. and raped and murdered near Crookston.
Walker wanted to know why it took more than nine months for the public to be notified that Wgeishofski had moved to Ironton. She said Wgeishofski and Rodriguez were the same. She called them evil human beings with twisted minds.
"This guy, as with Alfonso Rodriguez, should have never slipped through the cracks of civil commitment," Walker said. "This person, with a twisted mind and evil intentions, should never have been released out of civic commitment. I believe you owe that to this community.
"We give them second, third, fourth and fifth chances. What have we given to any of those victims? ... I am so appalled to think that in this day and age there's any excuse for them slipping through the cracks as sociopaths."
Walker's remarks were followed by loud applause.
Crow Wing County Sheriff's Capt. Neal Gaalswyk said the problem with the delayed community notification meeting rested with his department. He said Wgeishofski notified the sheriff's department of his intent to move to Ironton in December of 2008. For reasons his department can't fully determine, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension wasn't notified until recently.
"We do take responsibility for that," Gaalswyk said. "The ... system in place prior to this did catch 100 percent of the people moving into Crow Wing County. We have since then reviewed and changed the process and we're confident we have a system in place that will catch everyone, with no one falling through the cracks."
Michele Murphy, community notification coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, opened the meeting with an overview of predatory offenders in general, in Minnesota and in Crosby, where there are 15 ranging from Levels 1-3.
Murphy also detailed Wgeishofski's criminal history in Washington state.
• In 1980, Wgeishofski was convicted for third-degree rape of a 15-year-old girl, which included fondling and penetration. The victim and her boyfriend were hitchhiking when Wgeishofski came upon them. He used force, brandished a knife and threatened to kill the girl to get her to comply.
• In 1981, Wgeishofski broke into a residence and held a 24-year-old woman and her husband at gunpoint. During the continued sexual assault Wgeishofski threatened to kill the victim's husband and 5-month-old child if she did not comply with his demands.
• For both cases, he was sentenced to two 20-year prison sentences to run concurrently. Both sentences were suspended in 1984.
• In 1989 it was alleged he had sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old girl, including solicitation for sex and a request for the girl's underwear. He used a gun to order the girl into his vehicle. Though he wasn't charged in the incident, his probation was revoked he served the remainder of his sentence for the 1980 and 1981 crimes. He was in prison from 1990-2005.
• In 2005 he was released from prison and assigned as a Level 3 predatory offender in Washington state. He was reviewed for civil commitment as a sexually violent predator and has been found not to meet criteria.
Wgeishofski is no longer under any kind of law enforcement or state supervision. His only condition is that he must register as a predatory offender for the rest of his life, which means providing information to law enforcement about where he lives, works, goes to school, vehicles he drives and change of appearance. Sheriff's deputies perform at least two checks a year on predatory offenders. Failure to notify law enforcement of changes would result in a felony charge.
The information from the Department of Corrections did little to ease the minds of many people in attendance. One woman, whose daughter lives behind Wgeishofski's house, broke into tears recounting the times her grandchildren played in their backyard in full view of the predatory offender's house. Many others said it was only a matter of time before he reoffends.
Murphy said predatory offenders have always been living among us and always will be but it wasn't until 1997 that people had the right to know about them. The purpose of the meeting was not to increase fear but to inform people to be vigilant.
"I know there's a lot of anxiety and lot of fear about this individual moving into your community," Murphy said. "In no way does this meeting or the information minimize what this offender did. What he did was awful."
Several people in the audience asked if it were possible to have Wgeishofski civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan said the paperwork from the Department of Corrections was received Wednesday and would be reviewed for possible civil commitment.
If a commitment is sought, Ryan said the Minnesota attorney general's office would assist in the matter. Ryan said it would takes a couple of weeks before that point is reached, however.
"We will be considering this but I don't have any answers tonight on whether we will or will not be commencing it and I can't tell you what the likelihood of success would be if we do," Ryan said.
Ryan also reiterated the importance of such meetings. He said before notification laws changed, rapists - or sexual offenders, as they are called today - and their victims could be sitting in the same classrooms together and law enforcement wasn't allowed to tell their teachers.
"We've changed those laws over 15 years so we can not only tell teachers, but in certain instances we can stand in front of a room full of angry people because no one wants a sex offender living next to them - not you, not me, not anybody else," Ryan said. "Fifteen years ago you wouldn't even know this guy is here."
Another woman in the audience said people shouldn't attack law enforcement of the Department of Corrections, but instead should contact their legislators about changing laws concerning predatory and sexual offenders.
"It's the laws that allow offenders to slip through, not these officers," she said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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