Eyewitness News Investigates a sex offender at a community Christmas event. We heard from people in Porterville who are upset after discovering a man convicted on charges of child molestation was interacting with children.
It started as a great day for one Porterville mother who was taking her kids to meet Santa Claus. She says that all quickly changed when she saw one her relatives- a registered sex offender- helping out at the event and interacting with children. On top of that, she learned the man even lives at the location where the party was held.
Beatrice Gonzales says, "It just broke my heart to see this because I don't want my kids around that."
Beatrice Gonzales says she couldn't believe her eyes when she walked into a children's Christmas party in Porterville and saw a convicted sex offender mingling with kids.
"Santa Claus comes out and he's greeting the first children who are in line and I see the gentleman next to him that is helping him and I recognize him and he is a pedophile," says Gonzales.
Gonzales knew who the man was right away, because she's related to him. The man was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14 years old in 2002 and released from prison in 2009. Eyewitness News chose to not identify the man because he served his time in prison and tells us he is no longer on parole or probation since he never re-offended.
"He's happily playing with the kids, talking with them. He's squatted down to their level."
The event was hosted at a group home which houses ex-convicts and recovering drug addicts - a place to help people get their lives back on track. The address for the event was advertised in a newspaper and is the same address used by the man to register as a sex offender on Megan's law. No where in the article did it indicate that convicted felons and recovering drug addicts would be interacting with children.
"It made my heart drop. It upset me to see that they would allow this in this facility," says Gonzales.
Gonzales says she immediately grabbed her children and left, later calling the Porterville Police. A police sergeant confirmed to Eyewitness News confirmed the man is no longer restricted from being around children. Still, Gonzales says it's concerning.
"It's very irresponsible."
Janice Rice founded the foundation that hosted the event. She's also a pastor who's been working to save and change lives for 43 years. She refers to the registered sex offender as one of her favorite people in the world and says he's a changed man.
Rice says, "He's really changed. He's walked the walk, talked the talk, lived right done what he's supposed to do."
Rice says she understands why Gonzales and others are concerned and says in hindsight she would have asked the man to leave the holiday event and return when it was over.
"Yes, I understand that as a mother. I didn't know it was going to be a problem."
Gonzales says she hopes in the future the foundation will pay closer attention to who it allows around the community's children.
"It's very disturbing to me. I don't want that around my kids and I'm sure every other parent doesn't want that around their child."
we also sat down with the man at the center of the controversy in an off-camera interview. He tell us he was released from parole a few years ago and even says he's now eligible to have his name removed from the sex offender registry, but hasn't filled out the paperwork.
As for any more children's event at the group home, Rice says there will be one next Thanksgiving but says she'll be more careful about who's attending.