UPDATE: Florida lawmaker says DHS should face "tough questions" - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: Florida lawmaker says DHS should face "tough questions" about new sex offender evaluation director

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The man hired to be the new sexual offender evaluation director for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) resigned from a similar position in Florida last September, after defending the rights of sex offenders and allowing the number of offenders tagged as "sexual predators" to drop by more than half under his watch.

A DHS spokesperson says the agency has selected Dr. Daniel Montaldi to head up sex offender evaluations at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston, but notes that the "hiring process is not complete."

Sand Ridge specializes in treatment services for offenders committed under Chapter 980, Wisconsin's sexually violent persons law.

Dr. Montaldi last served as the lead administrator for Florida's Sexually Violent Predator Program.

He resigned that position one day after the Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper wrote an article raising questions about is views and record.

As in Wisconsin, Florida law allows the state to keep sexual predators locked up after their prison sentences end.  Dr. Montaldi was in charge of the staff that would evaluate those offenders before they were released and recommend those likely to re-offend for continued confinement.

According to the Sun-Sentinel, the number of sex predator recommendations dropped considerably under Dr. Montaldi.  In the year before he became director, the program flagged 213 offenders as potential predators.  In the year under Dr. Montaldi's direction, that number dropped to 86.

That issue came under intense scrutiny after the June 2013 rape and murder of 8 year-old Cherish Perrywinkle of Jacksonville.  Police arrested and charged 57 year-old Donald Smith with committing the crimes, just three weeks after his release from state custody.

"We learned that Florida had been releasing violent sexual predators under Mr. Montaldi's watch and that those violent sexual predators were re-offending, sometimes even the day or the same week they were released," Florida State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-District 4) told 27 News on Monday.

Rep. Gaetz is the Chair of the Florida House Sub-Committee on Criminal Justice, who says he found not only Dr. Montaldi's record troubling, but also his comments on the civil rights of sex offenders.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that in an August 2013 email to members of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, Dr. Montaldi wrote:  "The value of liberty in a free society must also extend to society's most feared and despised members.  The civil rights of even sex offenders is still an important moral value."

"I think the people of Wisconsin should have a lot of questions about somebody that was essentially run out of the State of Florida because he used a position as an administrator with our sexually violent predator program to increase the propensity for releases for some very, very dangerous people," said Rep. Gaetz.

But in its statement to 27 News, DHS downplayed those concerns.

"Dr. Montaldi has experience, expertise and philosophies that align with the Department's role under Chapter 980 with regard to the treatment and supervision of sex offenders as well as sex offender re-offense risk assessment.  He is widely recognized as a content expert in risk assessment and we are eager to have him join our staff," wrote DHS Spokesperson Stephanie Smiley.

At a stop in Holmen on Monday, Gov. Scott Walker told a reporter he did not have anything to do with Dr. Montaldi's hire.

"That's so low down the chain I don't have anything to do with even the person who hired the person who hired the person," said Gov. Walker.

DHS also notes that unlike Florida, Wisconsin's sex offender evaluation director does not have the final say on whether or not a predator should be released back into society.  Here, Dr. Montaldi would only be authorized to make a recommendation to a court or jury, which would make the final decision.

Smiley tells 27 News that because the hire is not yet complete, she cannot confirm a start date or salary for Dr. Montaldi, but says the starting salary for the position was listed to go as high as $122,316 annually.
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