Dispute brews at ‘Pervert Park’ following Sundance documentary exposure
(Tampa Bay Times) ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, a top prize went to Pervert Park, a foreign-made documentary about registered sex offenders living in a Pinellas County mobile home park.
Critics lauded the film as a nuanced, if disquieting look at child molesters and other offenders, many of whom have been helped to restart their lives by an organization called Florida Justice Transitions.
But now Transitions’ president Jim Broderick and the Christian gospel musician who owns the park are locked in a dispute that, Broderick says, threatens programs that keep sex offenders from repeating their crimes.
Broderick failed to meet this week’s court-ordered deadline to pay $16,000 in overdue lot rent on 14 trailers in which he houses offenders at the Palace Mobile Home Park.
He accused park owner Jeff Shadowens of stealing the trailers and jeopardizing the treatment and counseling available to residents.
“I was the one who brought in the AA, the NA meetings,” Broderick said. “The sex offender counseling – that’s my thumbprint. The program is gone, he (Shadowens) is just a landlord.”
Shadowens would not comment in detail, citing pending lawsuits against Broderick. But he said he would not evict any tenants.
“Nothing is going to change,” he said. “I’m not going to put sex offenders on the street.”
The dispute has poisoned what was once a mutually advantageous relationship that also fulfilled a pressing need – housing for one of society’s most stigmatized groups.
In Florida, sex offenders on probation for crimes involving underage victims may not live within 1,000 feet of a school, child care facility or other places where children congregate.
Among the few places in Tampa Bay that welcome offenders is the Palace, an aging park on 54th Avenue N overlooking the eight-laned traffic of I-275. It is home to 134 of Pinellas County’s 1,628 registered sex offenders.
Once a notorious hang out for addicts and prostitutes, the park shifted focus about a decade ago while run by a manager whose son was an offender. She started Florida Justice Transitions, which acquired several trailers in the 80-lot park, and began accepting people convicted of sex crimes.
Among them was Broderick, an electrical contractor who spent 18 months in prison for using the Internet to try to solicit sex with a child (in reality, an undercover cop). In 2007, he took over Justice Transitions and, he says, greatly expanded its range of services.
Broderick also allowed in a pair of Scandinavian filmmakers who interviewed several of the park’s residents last year. One had been raped by her father while still in the crib; She later seduced her own son, who in turn molested a 3-year-old boy.
“In providing room for such stories,” a Variety critic wrote of Pervert Park, “the documentary broadens well beyond a portrait of this particular facility to address the underlying causes of these crimes and to question how society might more constructively deal with the issues.”
Praised for its “daring approach” and the “courageous candor of its subjects,” the film won a Special Jury Award for Impact at Utah’s Sundance festival but has not been commercially released in the United States. (Trailers are available on YouTube.)
For a time, Broderick had an amicable arrangement with Shadowens, the park’s owner. A founder of the Largo-based gospel music ministry Simple Faith, Shadowens is a singer and songwriter who has appeared on Christian television and radio.
Under their agreement, Broderick paid Shadowens $2,500 a month lot rental for the 14 trailers that Florida Justice Transitions owns. Shadowens paid Broderick a $50 a month “referral fee” for every tenant brought in by Transitions but housed in a trailer Shadowens owned.
Thing began to sour in late 2012.
“He wanted the whole ball of wax,” Broderick charges. He says Shadowens stopped paying the referral fees, hired Transitions’ staff, removed him as manager and barred him from collecting rent from Transitions tenants in Shadowens’ trailers.
Shadowens evicted Broderick from the park in January and sued him in February for failing to pay several months’ lot rent.
In a counterclaim filed this week, Broderick says he is the one owed money – thousands of dollars in unpaid referral fees.
The dispute has left tenants wondering about their future, and also taking sides.
Some, who did not want to be named, much less photographed, said Broderick is overstating what he has done to help them. They say tenants largely run the park themselves, watching out for each other to make sure no one repeats. They say Shadowens welcomed offenders when few others would. They note that a therapist continues to hold counseling sessions at the park.
But Broderick has his supporters.
“Jim has given me hope,” says Bruce Edmondson, a smooth-skinned man of 50 with dark, wavy hair curling around his shoulders.
Edmondson, a former 911 operator, spent 11 years in prison for molesting his daughter and wound up at the Palace because no halfway houses would take him. But he said he would have been evicted months ago if Broderick hadn’t let him stay rent-free in one of Transitions’ trailers.
Edmondson said Broderick also helped him apply for disability benefits, got him to doctor’s appointments, even invited him for cookouts.
“Jim bought another guy a pair of shoes,” he added. “Poor guy was walkin’ around with no shoes. He’s just like me, he ain’t got nothin.”’
Broderick’s own financial situation is unclear. He acknowledges that while he hasn’t paid his lot fees, he continues to collect around $8,400 a month from his tenants. But he says that much of that goes for legal bills, loan payments on Transitions’ trailers and rent on a house he moved into after being forced out as the Palace’s live-in manager.
“I’ve never made any money at this,” Broderick says. “That’s not the case with other people.”
With the deadline looming to pay the delinquent lot fees, Broderick, 60, sought help from dozens of agencies and individuals including Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. His deputies monitor the park, which has a St. Petersburg address but is in an unincorporated area, and register offenders there.
Gualtieri declined Broderick’s appeal – “it’s not my role or responsibility” – and said he does not know Broderick. The sheriff called the park itself a “double-edged sword.”
“One of the detriments of having it is that it attracts people who can’t get housing in other areas to come here. The other side is that it also has people from here in Pinellas who otherwise couldn’t get housing find a place, and in many respects it makes it easier for law enforcement because it centralizes that offender/predator population. We have some problems there but actually I’m surprised we don’t have more problems than we do.”
Gualtieri said he has been in the park. His description is terse:
“It’s not a nice place. It is what it is.”
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate