Larry Lampke just had heart surgery and was lying on a mattress set up in his living room when officers from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security brought his son Daniel through the front door.
His damaged heart raced.
What had happened to his shy, socially awkward son? Had he done something or had something been done to him?
Daniel had always kept to himself and seemed clenched up and wrapped inward.
Lampke never imagined that his son’s quirkiness and his mental condition – which he only recently learned is a very mild form of autism – would, in part, propel Daniel through the New York court system and land him on a list of high-level sex offenders.
Just the words are menacing and off-putting.
Some people assume Daniel is a rapist.
He is not.
Lampke remembers the shock that set in when officers told him his son had child pornography on his laptop. Officers found the laptop when Daniel was crossing the Canadian-American border in the summer of 2013, shortly before he began his freshman year at UB.
Daniel, now 22, had five images of children between 11 and 16 years old and one short video on the computer, according to his lawyer.
Daniel is articulate when it comes to complex subjects like chemistry and linguistics. But he struggles to talk about himself and to explain why he downloaded the illegal images. He says he was lonely and curious, but admits he’s not sure why he did it. His lawyer suggests people with autism can be emotionally younger than their actual years.
On March 21, 2014, Daniel pleaded guilty to attempted possession of child pornography.
And on July 30, 2014 – after Daniel had already spent two full semesters at UB as a linguistics major and found his first girlfriend – the state labeled him a Level 2 sex offender.
“It’s something I wish I had never done. I definitely acknowledge that I broke the law.”
A judge gave Daniel the label after he was run through a point system that ranks an offender’s risk of reoffending.
Because the court deemed Daniel “psychologically abnormal,” the judge – Kenneth Case of Erie County – bumped his level up a notch higher than his original Level 1 score.
Now, the Level 2 label could remain with Daniel for life.
This label has already forced Daniel to leave his UB on-campus housing – where he had spent almost eight uneventful months after his arrest, but prior to his conviction. It’s also prevented him from getting a job or attending classes at UB.
Who would want to house or hire or even befriend a sex offender?
Because Daniel was denied housing on UB’s campus, the university determined he could not be in any on-campus dorms. In August of 2014, he was caught in his girlfriend’s dorm room and arrested.
Last Wednesday, he got his punishment: He’s not allowed on campus for a year.
The punishment doesn’t matter to Daniel.
He dropped out of school at the end of the fall semester, ending his hopes of becoming a linguistics researcher. It was too hard to be a sex offender and a student.
After his Level 2 listing, he couldn’t find a place to live. At times during the fall semester, when his parents couldn’t drive him the 45-minutes from his Evans home, he slept in the library. According to the rules of his probation, Daniel is not even allowed to access a computer or go on the Internet until 2020.
“It’s something I wish I had never done,” Daniel said of downloading the images. “I definitely acknowledge that I broke the law. I’m not saying that I didn’t – it just doesn’t seem like it fits. I realize I have to have some kind of punishment because I broke the law but it just doesn’t seem to fit.”
On Aug. 25, Daniel became the most talked-about topic on campus.
At about 5 p.m., UB sent a campus-wide email to the nearly 40,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni with a buffalo.edu email address alerting them that Daniel Lampke, a Level 2 sex offender and registered student, was taking classes.
The email included a link to a color photo of Daniel and a description of his crime.
The photo is the one that appears on the New York State sex offender registry and – like a mug shot – shows an unsmiling, slightly scruffy-faced Daniel, his big rectangular glasses overwhelming his pale face and wide eyes.
The message went out on the first day of Daniel’s second year at UB. It left him shocked, afraid and embarrassed.
Such an email, said UB Spokesman John Della Contrada, is protocol, based on a SUNY policy in accordance with Megan’s Law, which requires UB to notify the campus when a Level 2 or 3 sex offender is enrolled or working on campus. It made no difference – nor did the UB email state – that Daniel had already been on campus and taking classes the entire year before without incident. It did say he was not a threat to anyone on campus and warned students that anyone who harassed him would get in trouble.
It was the first time UB sent out such an email because it was the first time a Level 2 offender was registered at UB, Della Contrada said.
SUNY’s policy doesn’t require UB to look into the charges before issuing the alert.
Had officials probed into Daniel’s case, they may have learned Daniel, who was never accused of touching anyone in any way, has a higher level sex offender ranking than some offenders who have molested children. They may have learned that Daniel’s ranking was upped from a Level 1 – which would have required no public notification – to a Level 2. Daniel’s lawyer, Rodney Personius, said the court saw his autism as an aggravating factor, rather than a mitigating one.
Personius said he thinks the judge may not have made Daniel a Level 2 if he knew it would mean a massive email notification across campus because he didn’t want to cause Daniel any harm.
But no one at UB asked questions. And even if anyone had, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The law treats sex offenders harsher than most criminals.
According to New York State statistics, Daniel, like the 467 other Level 2 offenders in Erie County, has a “moderate risk” of reoffending.
That risk dictates his life.
“This punishment for what he had on his computer … just for that alone for the punishment he has, and for his life before as far as being law abiding and being in school, being smart, having aspirations … it’s just terribly, terribly unfair,” his father said.
Daniel’s story calls into question the way judges decide sex offenders’ levels and the trickle down effect of that label, especially in the university setting. Despite the good intentions of the law, the label has ruined a young man’s life.
He’s lost his sense of purpose, his friends, his hope for the future. Once people know he’s a sex offender, they recoil from him as if he were toxic. He spends his days watching TV, reading and applying to jobs for which he won’t be hired.
One of the last bits of his former life he could still hold onto was his girlfriend – part of his main support system throughout the last year. She asked her name not be used in this piece for a “variety of personal reasons.” By May of this year, she could no longer stand the pressure of dating a Level 2 sex offender and the couple, who met at their freshman orientation, broke up.
Daniel’s optimism has waned over the course of the last seven months, as he navigates life as a sex offender.
Daniel Lampke stands outside the Academic Spine on one of his last days as a UB student. / Sara DiNatale
Daniel’s life shifted irrevocably when UB sent out that warning email.
“It seemed like everything changed after that, like everybody knew my face,” Daniel said. “It seemed like everybody was looking at me. I didn’t know how to react.”
Daniel said his “mild autism” already made it hard to talk to people. The email just amplified it. He constantly wondered if people were talking behind his back.
That day, as he walked through a campus that now recognized his face, he probably looked like he usually does. Daniel sticks out, according to his dad. He keeps himself coiled up in a way – his arms always snug and tense against his chest.
His dad pushes him to relax because he worries people make the wrong assumptions based just on his posture.
Daniel acknowledges his crime. He goes to court-mandated therapy that has helped him understand why it’s not OK to have images of children being abused. He now knows it’s a form of abuse and why it’s illegal.
He wishes he never did it. He says he’s sorry, but still can’t explain why he broke the law.
“It’s very difficult to explain what actually happened – my thought process,” Daniel said. “I guess the main thing is just, I grew up so lonely I had to develop ways to cope that some of them were not healthy. It’s a mistake. It’s a mistake I made. It’s not the fact that I like children, that I want to touch children – that’s not the case. It’s the fact I was looking for ways to cope with my loneliness and my lack of experience with just about everything.”
Daniel admits he never had a “true relationship” before meeting his girlfriend. He was ignorant – sexually and otherwise. He made a lot of Internet friends because it was easier to talk online than face-to-face.
When he spoke to The Spectrum for the first time in October, his now ex-girlfriend held his hand. She helped Daniel with every part of his life post-conviction. Seven months ago, Daniel said he wasn’t “sure he’d still be here without her.”
“As I’ve come to understand it,” his girlfriend said at that first meeting, “he was sort of in a place mentally because of his autism that he was sort of disillusioned to the world, and I think that he struggled to make the connection between images of children and child abuse.”
Daniel was never charged federally because his case was moved from federal to local court in Evans. His original charges were higher than what he currently carries, but they were lowered when Daniel pleaded guilty.
Kicked out of campus housing
Daniel got six years of probation and – unless his level status gets changed – will be on New York State’s sex offender registry for life. Daniel can bring his case back to Judge Case once every year to potentially have his level lowered. His father worries his court-mandated therapist, however, won’t back Daniel if he goes before the judge again soon.
In the summer of 2014, Daniel, his family, his lawyer and then-girlfriend, all expected – and pushed for – him to receive a Level 1 label.
Level 1 would mean he’d have a low risk of reoffending. Nearly 42 percent of the county’s 1,365 registered sex offenders are Level 1. The levels dictate what information is shared with the public. Daniel, as a Level 2, has his exact address listed on the public registry.
If Daniel had a Level 1 label, UB never would have made its campus-wide announcement. Level 1 offenders also aren’t listed on the searchable public registry. Lampke wonders if UB would have considered letting his son stay on campus in his own room if he was a Level 1. UB doesn’t have an answer to that question.
“It is difficult to say if any one level might result in a greater or lesser likelihood of a particular outcome decision in a student’s case,” said Senior Director of Campus Living Brian Haggerty, in an email.
Haggerty said he couldn’t comment on a student’s specific case and therefore wouldn’t say why Daniel was denied housing.
Daniel appealed the decision and was denied again. His father said UB didn’t base the decision on complaints from students, but on the fact Daniel was convicted of a sex crime.
Being a Level 1 could mean he’d have an easier time finding an off-campus apartment – but even then, all the levels carry a stigma.
At the very least, if he was a Level 1, he’d know after 20 years without incident, his name would be removed from New York’s list of registered sex offenders.
Today, Daniel lives with his family in Evans. He can’t find housing elsewhere and has no money or a job. He quit UB at the end of the fall semester, largely because he had nowhere to sleep. At one point, he spent several weeks sleeping in Capen Hall’s library.
Larry Lampke has taken an active role in helping his son take on his legal battles. / Courtesy of Larry Lampke
Daniel didn’t know it, but the moment he downloaded those images, he became part of a growing scourge – online pedophilia.
The rise of the Internet in the 1990s virtually destroyed the progress law enforcement officials say they had made in eliminating child porn trafficking. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, by the 1980s the problem was almost eradicated in the United States.
Today, producing and collecting images of sexually abused children has never been easier, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Between 2005 and 2009, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Child Victim Identification Program had a 432 percent increase in child pornography movies and files submitted by law enforcement to the organization for identification.
The federal government considers it a growing problem.
And the punishments are severe.
Once sex offenders are convicted, they’re all treated mostly the same by the system and the public.
Sex offenders of all varieties get clumped together, said Buffalo lawyer John Nuchereno, who’s practiced law for 37 years and regularly handles sex offense cases.
“It’s not to say some sex offenders shouldn’t be confined forever, but it’s the cases of the person when it’s a one-time thing and they’re not going to be a menace in the future but are treated the same way,” Nuchereno said. “For those who you want to punish, [the system] works; for those who are unique, it doesn’t work at all.”
Daniel’s father believes the system has inappropriately punished and stigmatized his son.
“I truly believe he would never do it again,” Lampke said.
Daniel agrees, insisting it was a mistake he’s learned from.
The court doesn’t agree – at least not yet. Daniel has yet to try to have his level modified.
An accredited doctor assessed Daniel’s mental health and said Daniel’s mental state “decreases the Defendant’s ability to control impulsive sexual behavior,” according to court documentation.
Daniel and his father don’t agree with that assessment, but Daniel has been trying to better himself through therapy for months.
“Some of the things that Dan had told [the doctor] as far as what he thinks is OK and what might not be OK are disturbing,” Lampke said. “But at the same time, they are thoughts, and it never means he’s going to act upon them.”
When a defendant is deemed “psychologically abnormal” like Daniel was,he or she is automatically assessed as a Level 3 sex offender.
But judges have discretion. Judge Case bumped Daniel to a Level 2 and not 3 – a Level 3 ranking would’ve been even harsher on Daniel.
Various court employees said the judges who decide leveling typically strive to be fair and impartial. The judges are expected to handle their flexibility with the legislation correctly. Ultimately, it’s judges – not solely the Sex Offender Risk Assessment guidelines – that decide the fate and level of the offenders. The goal, employees said, is to keep the public safe but also allow those who deserve rehabilitation the chance to have it.
But some defense attorneys still question the point system used for risk assessment. And Daniel struggles to realize how he can rehabilitate himself when he can’t even get a job in the backroom of a Walmart.
“When they came out with this assessment they really weren’t thinking about images,” Nuchereno said. “It doesn’t fit, it really doesn’t. It’s very inaccurate.”
Personius said the guidelines, as written, are “very concerning.”
“It has an element of randomness to it,” Personius said.
People who work for the state and regularly with these cases say those concerns are why there is a hearing to determine an offender’s level. At that time, the defense can argue against the state’s recommended level assignment. The framework of the law requires the assessment to happen, but judges can veer from it – whether up or down – as long as they put a legitimate reason on the record.
What exactly is the point system?
There are 15 factors that help determine a sex offender’s risk assessment. The Sex Offender Registration Act took effect in 1996. The act requires New York’s Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders to “develop guidelines and procedures to assess the risk of a repeat offense by a sex offender and the threat posed to the public safety,” according to Correction Law §168-1(5).
Offenders get varying numbers of points based on things like their age when they committed the offense, if a weapon was involved and the ages of the victim – the younger the victim, the higher the point value. When an offender hits more than 70 points, he or she is leveled a Level 1 offense – more than 110, Level 2.
Daniel scored 70 points. He got 20 points because there were two victims within the images and another 10 because he was 20 at the time of his arrest, for example.
The guidelines were updated in 2006, but still don’t specify between what Nuchereno calls “in-the-flesh” acts and child pornography crimes.
Nuchereno takes issue with how the children in the photos are assigned ages, because unless the child is identified, there may not be definitive proof of how old they are, which affects the points doled out. He worries this can lead to inflated leveling.
“… it just seems like no one is willing to let me be a normal person because it’s too much of a risk.”
But in 2012, the Board of Examiners released a position statement on the scoring of child pornography cases and the nuances they can pose, stating: “The Board remains concerned about child pornography offenders, and in the majority of cases, believes they have a sexually deviant interest in children which poses significant risk to public safety; however, recognizes that each person convicted of child pornography poses risks that are unique to that individual. These images are in essence crime scene photos of children being sexually abused, and the increased demand for these images result in further sexual victimization of children.”
And the way the points add up and what a judge sees fit can mean variation among offenders. Some people, such as Daniel, who have never touched a child can be rated higher than someone who has had sexual contact with a child, based on the court’s determination if that person is likely to act again.
That bothers Daniel’s father. He’s kept any eye on other cases, collecting newspaper clippings. He has about 20 stacked up and sitting on his kitchen table. He’s seen other offenders who have touched children get rated the same or less than Daniel.
There’s one clipping in his ever-growing packet that he points to as the most disturbing.
“I hope it was a misprint,” he says about the short article published in The Buffalo News in October 2014.
A 71-year-old man, Mikhail Kusluk, was rated a Level 1 sex offender after sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl by the same judge who decided Daniel’s level.
“He was classified as a Level 1 and he had sexual contact with a 6-year-old girl,” Lampke said, struggling to believe Daniel was considered more dangerous than a man who admitted touching a child. “You would think more contact would be the higher [level].”
The Spectrum contacted Judge Case’s chambers and his court could not comment on Daniel’s case because of the potential for Daniel, pursuant to the corrections law, to come in before the judge and ask for modification, which he can do annually.
Life after conviction
Daniel knows the state views him as a potential danger.
“I just want to be a normal person again and it just seems like no one is willing to let me be a normal person because it’s too much of a risk,” he said.
And with that risk also comes a decently hefty price tag. Being a sex offender isn’t cheap. He has to pay a probation fee of $35 a month, which will total $2,520 after his six years of probation are up. If his probation officer wants him to get a drug test, that’s $50. His weekly court ordered-therapy is $60 per session and he got a $1,500 fine for his crime.
Unable to find a job, Daniel is overwhelmed. He’s can’t work in the fast food industry because someone under 18 might work at those establishments, too. He can’t work anywhere with minors.
Daniel never served jail time and was charged with a misdemeanor. But being on probation as a sex offender is like being on house arrest in a lot of ways – especially for Daniel, who has an aversion to driving.
He describes his life today as a husk of what it once was. Daniel now spends his days shuffling between meetings with his probation officer and his court-mandated group therapy. He carries what he calls a “dumb phone” – a flip phone that can’t connect to the Internet or take photos as part of his probation restrictions. He spends a lot of time playing video games and searching manually for jobs.
On New Year’s Eve 2014, Daniel could have seen his grandfather, who lived in Pennsylvania, for one last time. But the paperwork required for a sex offender to travel out of state is too complicated, Lampke said, and Daniel’s probation officer said it wasn’t possible.
“He missed out on the opportunity and the next opportunity he got was to be carrying his [grandfather’s] casket,” Lampke said.
Daniel’s father and mother have both been supportive during the ongoing struggle.
“We both love him unconditionally,” his father said.
But Lampke has taken a more active role in his son’s legal situation. He was at home on the mend and out of work dealing with his heart – which wound up requiring three surgeries – when Daniel was first facing his charges.
He’s become involved in a way he wishes he had sooner.
Daniel had been an Internet junkie since high school, Lampke said. He’d go in chat rooms and make online friends. Lampke questioned the influence they had on his son. He wanted to limit his computer time, but was never successful.
“I had to bite my tongue a lot but I knew something like this was the kind of thing that could possibly happen and it did,” Lampke said, fighting back his emotions.
He continues to collect his news clippings, following legislation that would affect sex offenders closely and other people’s decisions. He hopes maybe they’ll help one day in court when Daniel tries to modify his level.
But he worries about his son’s lost potential. He says if UB let Daniel stay living on campus, he’d at least have had a chance at getting his education.
There aren’t any other high-level sex offenders pursuing an education at UB right now, though there is one Level 1 offender registered as a part-time student, according to UB Chief of Police Gerald Schoenle.
But sex offenders rarely get a higher education, according to Derek Logue, a registered sex offender in Ohio who was convicted of sexual contact with a minor 22 years ago.
In that time, he’s become a sex offender rights activist and author and says he’s seen how difficult it is for sex offenders to stay enrolled in college.
“It’s not very often sex offenders go to college,” Logue said. “Most of us are racked with fear from the treatment we’ve gotten on the inside and from the community.”
And right now, college prospects are not Daniel’s focus.
He says he hopes he can at least get a factory job.
Sara DiNatale can be reached at email@example.com.