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Sex offender defends his right to run free haunted house; Notoriety prompts him to cancel event

About 350 children showed up last year for Halloween at Jeffrey Lewinski's house on Washburn Street in Lockport, where the 39-year-old man and some friends put on a show called "Night Terrors," a temporarily constructed haunted house.

Lewinski had expected an even larger cast to put on the free show again Monday.

But that was before parents in the community realized that Lewinski is a registered sex offender.

The resulting attention prompted him to cancel the event Friday night. Lewinski could not be reached late Friday to talk about his decision.

Lewinski was convicted in 1998 of having sexual contact with an 8-year-old boy in Buffalo and is rated as a Level 1 sex offender -- the least severe category.

His sentence of three years' probation has long since been served, and Lewinski had said there was no need for worry for any parent whose child attended his fourth annual backyard fright show with its 17-member cast.

"There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about," he said.

Lockport police weren't thrilled about Lewinski's show, but they said they would not have been able to do anything to prevent it. He is no longer under any sort of supervision from parole or probation officers.

"I have absolutely no restrictions on what I can or can't do," Lewinski said earlier this week.

Officer Thomas Gmerek, who monitors sex offenders for the Lockport Police Department, said he isn't allowed to talk about any specific case, but he confirmed that a registered sex offender who's not on probation or parole can do whatever he wants.

That's as it should be, in Lewinski's opinion.

"I'm known around Lockport as an all-right guy," said Lewinski, who has lived in Niagara County for 13 years.

A clergyman who helps reformed sex offenders agrees.

"Every Halloween needs a monster, and registered sex offenders seem to be it," said the Rev. David Hess, pastor of West Henrietta Baptist Church in suburban Rochester, who works with convicted sex offenders.

"As far as I know, there hasn't been a story anywhere in the United States of a registered sex offender attacking a trick-or-treater. It's like the old poisoned candy myth."

Lewinski pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, second-degree sexual abuse, after he was indicted on a felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse.

In June 1999, State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang placed Lewinski on three years' probation, according to the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

A report by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services shows only 6 percent of Level 1 offenders like Lewinski are arrested for another sex crime within eight years of registering.

But the clergyman isn't sure that Lewinski's Halloween activity would have been wise.

"I would question the guy's wisdom in doing this," Hess said. "He calls attention to himself."

Lewinski's partner in Night Terrors also insists parents would have had nothing to worry about.

"We're trying to reach the levels of Fright World [in Amherst] and Haunted Catacombs [in Cheektowaga]," said Brian Maloney.

The pair have worked on "hauntings" together for 10 years, after meeting when they worked on Lockport's now-defunct Haunted Trolley.

Lewinski said he works at the Lockport Cave and took part in its Haunted Cave Halloween show for four years.

Lewinski approached Mayor Michael W. Tucker about advertising Night Terrors in August at the Molson Canal Concert Series.

"The last concert, he was there in costume handing out cards," Tucker said. "That [sex offender] stuff always concerns me, but if the police can't do anything about it, I can't do anything about it, either."

As long as Night Terrors is in a temporary structure and doesn't charge admission, Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool said, Lewinski doesn't need any type of city permit for his show.

Facts about Lewinski's status are available to anyone with a computer. Even though the state Division of Criminal Justice Services doesn't post Level 1 sex offenders on its website, restricting such coverage to the more serious Level 2 and 3 cases, the Lockport Police Department does include Level 1 offenders on its own website.

Lewinski complained that's illegal, but a spokeswoman for Criminal Justice Services said local police agencies can publicize local sex offenders any way they see fit.

The state does offer information about Level 1 offenders via a toll-free phone number.

"When it comes up, I don't let it faze me. I know it's going to come up," Lewinski said. "What screwed me over was when they changed the legislation. I was only supposed to be on the registry for 10 years. Now it's 20 years. I have to be on it until 2019."

Lewinski wasn't the only registered sex offender involved in Night Terrors last year. Matthew M. Kaiser played a small role in the cast at the 2010 show and also helped with security, Lewinski said.

Kaiser, 41, of Washburn Street, was classified as a Level 3 sex offender, the most serious classification, by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza on Oct. 5.

Kaiser pleaded guilty in April of this year to possessing child pornography on his personal computer in 2009.

In July, Kaiser was placed on probation for 10 years. Sperrazza ordered that he start that sentence by serving the first six months in the county jail.

Between his April guilty plea and his July sentencing, Kaiser was arrested for allegedly asking a 9-year-old girl to tell him the color of her underwear and threatening to kill her if she told her father what he asked.

"He's not welcome here anymore," Lewinski said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com