High-risk rent: Renting homes to Wisconsin sex offenders

FOND DU LAC COUNTY (WITI) — FOX6’s Brad Hicks set out to do a story on taxpayer money, and how the state is spending it. However, sometimes stories take an unexpected turn — which is what happened in this instance.

Kirk Everson is proud to promote his Fond du Lac County compost company. He’s not afraid of being in the limelight as a lawyer — and he’s even a bit of a ham, appearing in the popular Chad Vader spoofs.

However, there is one thing Everson doesn’t want to talk about — not at his home, at his office, over the phone, or after his court appearance.

Steve Troscan wishes he had heard about Everson when he moved his mom from the family home into an assisted living facility. He says the house wasn’t selling until someone swooped in with a cash offer.

“From what I understood, the man was a lawyer from Fond du Lac. My sister and I would have never sold the house if we would have known this,” Troscan said.

The Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Juneau treats the worst sex offenders in Wisconsin — men who, after their prison terms, are still too dangerous to set free. They are committed to Sand Ridge to be treated, and most will never get out.

However, each year, a handful make enough progress that the state orders they be returned to the community, where they will be supervised and under tight restrictions.

Currently, there are 33 sexually violent offenders under supervised release.

The Department of Health Services returns them to the county from which they came. There is usually outrage and concern when a sex offender is placed in a neighborhood, but the law says they have to be placed.

These sex offenders live in rented homes that the state pays for with taxpayer dollars at prices that are nothing like what neighbors pay.

In one Milwaukee neighborhood, the state pays $1,900 a month to house a sex offender, which is about $1,000 more than neighbors pay in monthly rent.

Lydia Nichols rents a new two-bedroom in Manitowoc. Next door is a one-bedroom and home to a sex offender. The state pays $1,600 a month for the one-bedroom, while Nichols pays just $650.

The state says the rent is so high because it is hard to find suitable housing for these sex offenders. For starters, not a lot of people want to rent to the violent sex offender program. It can be risky for a landlord’s reputation. Also, places like Racine are tightening the reigns on where sex offenders can live.

Bob Peterson is a lawyer who represents many of the sex offenders at Sand Ridge and has seen how hard it can be to place them. Peterson says if more people were willing or able to rent, rent for sex offenders would go down.

“If there’s an individual that’s willing to do that, I look at is as they’re doing a public service,” Peterson said.

From that perspective, no one is providing a bigger “public service” than a company called Ervin J. Fenske.  The Milwaukee home renting for $1,900 and the Manitowoc home renting for $1,600 are both Fenske properties. The company also owns a home Wisconsin rents for a sex offender in Wheatland, one in Beloit, one in Eau Claire and one in Marathon County.

In fact, Fenske owns 20% of the 30 homes the state rents for sexually violent offenders.

So who is behind this company?

FOX6’s Brad Hicks received no answer from the attorney who filed the initial papers, the attorney who is listed as the current contact — and Kirk Everson.

Everson owns two homes rented to sex offenders in his own name: one in Green Bay and one near Fond du Lac. He is also involved with the Fenske properties.

However, Fenske isn’t the only retail company Everson is involved with. Steve Troscan, the man who sold his mother’s home in Milwaukee sold the home to a buyer called “Donald F. Wilson Jr.”

Weeks after closing, the Wilson company rented Troscan’s mother’s home to the state, to house a couple violent sex offenders on supervised release.

In all, Everson and the two companies, Fenske and Wilson own nine homes the state rents for sex offenders — properties that rake in more than $200,000 a year.

At a sex offender community notification meeting, neighbors learned about Everson and the properties he owns.

The Department of Health Services, which signs the contracts, refused an interview with FOX6 News, but FOX6’s Brad Hicks submitted a written question at the sex offender notification meeting: “How does Everson know which homes to buy?”

As it turns out, the state tips Everson off — locating residences that may be for sale, and then asking Everson to purchase the homes on the state’s behalf.

It was when FOX6’s Brad Hicks was researching the Wilson company that it became evident that something wasn’t adding up.

In March, when the company bought Troscan’s home, the legal contract person for the company was suddenly changed to Paul Mueller, and Mueller’s signature appears on the documents. However, the credit card that paid for that change was Everson’s.

At the same time, someone calling themselves Don Wilson, from the Donald F. Wilson Company tried to open a Milwaukee mailing address for Mueller and the company inside a building of short-lease office space. The address was never approved because this Don Wilson couldn’t produce two forms of ID.

However, sources say the credit card used to try to open the mailing address was Everson’s, and Mueller’s name and signature appeared on the annual corporate filings for the Fenske company, though the filing fees were paid with Everson’s credit card.

In fact, every time Mueller’s name was used on corporate filings with the state, the fees were paid by Everson.

When FOX6’s Brad Hicks caught up with Mueller, he claimed to have no idea about Fenske or Donald J. Wilson. He said he was surprised to see his name all over the companies.

However, there was one name that rang a bell.

“Kirk Everson is a good friend of mine. I’ve been friends with him for over 20 years. I went to high school with him. I can’t even guess what might be happening,” Mueller said.

Meanwhile, Everson refuses to answer that question. He did send a letter to FOX6 News citing attorney client privilege, meaning he won’t talk about the companies.

It seems the only dirt he wants anyone to know about is the compost he makes.

There is another company tied to all of this: Housing Opportunities and Program Services — the company the state actually pays the money to. HOPS as it is called, collects rent for both the Fenske company and the two homes Everson owns in his own name.

When it comes to the state, there aren’t a lot of options as far as simply refusing to pay such high rents.

As a representative from the DHS put it at the community notification meeting, the state isn’t in the driver’s seat. The landlords are.

However, lawmakers in Madison are taking notice. The Joint Audit Committee has asked the State Audit Board to take a look at the supervised release program at Sand Ridge, compare it to other states, and come up with some recommendations. That may include a centralized live/work facility — but plans to build a place like that in the past were scrapped.

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