Thomas Moore spent more than 20 years in prison for sexually abusing hospitalized women who were elderly, disabled or incapacitated.
But when time came to release him last year, state prison officials faced a problem. Indigent and with no family, the lifelong Queens resident had nowhere to go. Prison officials struggled to find a facility willing to accept the 62-year-old disabled sex offender. Indeed, Moore stayed at the Fishkill Correctional Facility three months longer than he was supposed to as the state shopped around his application.
Moore had no previous connection to Western New York, but late last year he was accepted at Waterfront Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Buffalo – where he lived surrounded by elderly, disabled and incapacitated women.
Barely a month after he moved into Waterfront, Moore was arrested and charged with sexually abusing a fellow resident in her bed.
"It was like throwing the fox in the hen house,” said Dr. Charles P. Ewing of the University at Buffalo, an attorney and forensic psychologist who has studied sex offenders and the law.
Authorities accused Moore of entering the room of another Waterfront resident at about midnight on Jan. 3, pulling off her blanket and molesting her. Police arrested Moore nine days later, charging him with sexual abuse of a person incapable of giving consent and with endangering the welfare of a physically disabled person.
The police report filed after Moore’s arrest said the woman had told Moore to leave her room “multiple times” before he came in at midnight, pulled down her blankets and molested her.
Moore, now in custody at the Erie County Holding Center, was brought to Buffalo City Court on Monday. His defense counsel said he hoped the charges could be reduced to a misdemeanor. But Erie County Assistant District Attorney Ryan Haggerty rejected that possibility. The prosecutor believes the charges filed against Moore when he was arrested are too low. The case will be presented to a grand jury, and Judge Kevin Keane scheduled a return court date of April 25.
Ewing called Moore's case "very troubling."
“If he’s in the community, that means that somehow, somewhere, someone made that decision," Ewing said.
The police report’s description of the January assault seems similar to Moore’s first two convictions for sex crimes. In both cases, he assaulted women who were disabled or incapacitated.
Moore’s first sex offense conviction came in July 1996. According to the New York Daily News, Moore targeted a 79-year-old woman – a patient in a Manhattan hospital. Convicted of the sexual abuse of a person who was physically helpless, he spent four years in prison and was released in 2000.
By August 2001, Moore was working part-time as a delivery person for a New York City florist. The job helped him gained entry to Beth Israel Medical Center, where Moore assaulted two female patients, according to the Daily News. First he pulled the sheet off a 58-year-old woman who had come out of surgery. Then a nurse spotted him on a bed with a semi-conscious 93-year-old woman.
Convicted of burglary and sexual abuse, Moore went to prison again. He remained imprisoned until 2016, when he maxed out his sentence and his parole.
Fishkill has a unit designed for state inmates with health problems.
'Prevention of abuse'
Denise Marciano, executive director of the Waterfront Center, declined repeated requests to comment on Moore’s situation and if she knew the exact nature of Moore’s previous crimes when the facility agreed to accept him as a resident.
State law required Waterfront to be notified of Moore’s status as a level 3 “sexually violent and predicate sex offender” when he was released to its care, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Services.
State law also required the Buffalo Police Department receive notification of Moore’s new address, but it does not specifically require any nursing homes notify their residents if the person in the next room is a convicted sexual predator.
Federal regulations, however, require nursing homes to make every effort to protect their residents from abuse.
Those rules “not only specify that these facilities may only admit residents they can appropriately care for, but they must also identify residents whose personal histories put them at risk for abusing other residents,” according to the state Department of Health.
“Staff must work diligently to prevent such occurrences by monitoring behavior of these residents and regularly reviewing their internal strategies for the prevention of abuse,” according to its statement to The News.
Ewing said that any facility responsible for the safety of others, whether they are young, elderly or infirm, has a higher level of obligation to stay informed if it agrees to hire or house someone on the sex offender registry.
“If you’re running a facility where you have vulnerable people, it seems like a reasonable precaution to check what (the resident offender) was guilty of,” Ewing said.
Moore’s recent arrest highlights the difficulties faced in evaluating sex offenders who have served their time, Ewing said.
“He was almost certainly assessed by somebody and found to be somebody not to be petitioned (for civil confinement),” Ewing said.
Ewing was not involved in Moore’s case.
He said the risk of releasing Moore may have taken into consideration his age and disability. Moore uses a wheelchair during court appearances. Ewing said that, in general, the odds of most people re-offending are small and the risk of older men re-offending is even smaller, sometimes because they are not physically capable.
There are more than 300 convicted sex offenders being held and treated in civil confinement in New York State, after they were deemed too dangerous by the Office of Mental Health to be released.
Ewing contends sex offender registries are flawed because they stigmatize many who are unlikely to ever commit another crime while not giving enough information about persistent offenders.
Ewing calls the state’s one-size-fits-all set of regulations for sex offenders an ongoing problem. For instance, in New York State, level 3 sex offenders like Moore cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school or day care.
But Moore was never accused or convicted of abusing children. His victims were bed-ridden adult women.
“One of the most significant indicators is past history – what he was convicted of. This (Moore's case) is not like staying a half-mile from a school,” Ewing said. “This would have him living in the school.”
Where to put offenders?
Moore's case, it turns out, is not an isolated incident. A disturbingly similar one occurred last year in Ohio.
The Alliance Review reported that Scott Russell Cook, a paraplegic, had been arrested in 2010 for attacking a 92-year-old woman suffering from dementia in a Cleveland retirement home. Cook, who was in his 40s, was sentenced to five years in prison before being released to another Ohio nursing home.
In 2016, he was arrested again, charged with the rape and sexual battery of a resident, an 85-year-old woman.
A 2015 study led by Cornell researchers found that more than 20 percent of nursing home residents are victims of some type of resident-on-resident abuse in the course of any given month, with the abuse ranging from cursing and threats, theft of personal items, inappropriate touching or hitting, all the way up to homicide. Most of the residents involved do not have criminal records, and many have dementia.
So, considering the challenges they already deal with, many nursing homes opt not to house sex offenders at all. Those decisions create a significant problem for the prison system.
“What do you do with these guys?” Ewing asked. “Because of the draconian sentences handed down over the years, there are a lot of old sex offenders in prison and the question is, where will they go when they are released?”
Offenders with level 2 and 3 designations have strict constraints on where they can live, making it extremely difficult for even healthy ex-cons to find housing. For those with disabilities or who need nursing care, it can be almost impossible.
That helps explain how someone like Moore, whose last outside address was the Bellevue Men’s Shelter in New York City, ended up 400 miles away in a Buffalo nursing home that has consistently received the lowest quality ranking possible from the state Health Department.
After Moore’s arrest, Waterfront was cited for further unspecified “deficiencies,” according to the Health Department, but the exact nature of those citations has not been disclosed or posted.
Meanwhile, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services says people who are concerned about their own family members' safety can register at www.nyalert.gov to receive alerts whenever a level 2 or level 3 sex offender moves to a specific address, including a nursing home.