Convicted sex offender sent back to prison after looking for child porn in Charlottesville hotel room

Crime

Richard Shaffer, 33, of Charlottesville was originally sentenced in Louisa county in 2011 for the abuse of a toddler and 15 counts of possession of child pornography, some of which showed a man performing violent sexual acts on a toddler.

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A convicted child sex offender who was released on probation in Charlottesville was sent back to prison after he was found trying to obtain child porn on a hidden phone, according to the Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.

Richard Shaffer, 33, of Charlottesville, was originally sentenced in Louisa County in 2011 for aggravated sexual battery against a toddler and 15 counts of possession of child pornography, some of which showed a man performing violent sexual acts on a toddler.

While Shaffer’s victim was too young to testify, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said his prison sentence was due to the state’s child pornography laws.

Shaffer was released by the Virginia Department of Corrections in July 2020. While he was eligible for civil commitment as a sexually violent predator, he was not committed and instead moved to Charlottesville.

Since he didn’t have a “stable residence,” the VADOC paid for Shaffer to live in a hotel room. The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office said the department paid for Shaffer’s housing for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. They added he did not get a job and spent his days in the hotel room.

“It is not clear how many sex offenders have been given the same benefit or for how long these benefits last,” the office said in a statement.

A spokesperson from the VADOC said it’s common practice to provide newly released inmates with housing. They said part of the reason the VADOC provides offenders a place to stay is so they know where they are and can have an address for the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry as well as a place to charge a GPS tracker.

“The alternative to emergency housing is a supervisee being homeless, which can be more dangerous for the community,” the spokesperson said in an email.

“Contrary to what is implied by the Commonwealth Attorney’s press release, hotel addresses can be listed on the State Police registry just as residential addresses are.”

In addition, the VADOC said they paid for Shaffer’s room until Nov. 7, 2020, when the homeless shelter opened for winter.

On Feb. 4, Shaffer’s probations officer made a surprise visit to his hotel room and found a cell phone he had been hiding from her. On the phone, the officer found an unregistered Facebook account, photos of the victim from the 2011 case and evidence that Shaffer had actively sought child pornography on the Internet. These were all violations of the terms of his probation, and in addition, failure of a sex offender to register on social media is a felony offense.  

The officer added that during a prior visit, Shaffer took steps to wipe information off a phone she knew about.

On Thursday, Judge John Cullen sentenced Shaffer to four years of prison for his parole violations.

“There is so much wrong with this case. We told the judge 10 years ago that Shaffer would be a continued threat to children and sadly we were correct,” Commonwealth’s Attorney McGuire in a prepared statement.

“Our citizens also have a right to know how much taxpayer money is being spent to house sex offenders in hotels where families often stay with small children. I thought the only time people needed to check the sex offender registry was before they moved to a new neighborhood, but now I am recommending you check the registry before you stay at any hotel in Virginia.”

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