By Jason Stein and Daniel Bice
Madison - Gov. Scott Walker's administration Wednesday dropped a controversial new hire charged with evaluating sex offenders for release back into Wisconsin communities, a move that came only hours after Walker said he opposed the psychologist.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported on the hire of Daniel Montaldi as "evaluation director" at the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, a state facility for sex predators. Montaldi, who was to evaluate sex offenders and recommend to court officials which ones should be released, resigned from his post running Florida's sex predator program six months ago because he was seen as being too sympathetic to offenders.
"The Department of Health Services has rescinded the verbal offer of employment made to Daniel Montaldi for the Psychologist Supervisor-Chapter 980 (Evaluation Unit Director) position at Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center," agency spokeswoman Stephanie Smiley said late Wednesday.
Smiley said Montaldi hasn't received any salary or payment from the state.
"The department will continue to protect the public by operating the program with existing resources as it has during this vacancy. Next steps for recruitment of this position have yet to be determined," she said.
Only hours before on Wednesday morning, Walker told reporters he wasn't happy about the hire of Montaldi and said it would be tricky firing him since he wasn't a political appointee under his direct control.
"I wasn't pleased with it. It's a civil service hire so ... the last two days we've been looking at what legal means we have to try to seek an alternative there," Walker said. "My hope is we'll have an answer by the end of today to do that."
Walker made that statement just as Wisconsin lawmakers began to look critically at the Montaldi hire.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), chairman of the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice, said late Tuesday that he hadn't researched Montaldi and didn't know him or his record beyond news accounts.
But "what I have read about him would give me extreme pause about whether he's the right person to ensure serious sex offenders are kept off the streets and away from our children," Kleefisch said.
Florida state Rep. Matt Gaetz said this week that he admired Walker but didn't think much of the Montaldi hire.
- See this article to read more about Mr. Gaetz.
"This is a guy who has a catch-and-release approach to violent sexual predators," said Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. "Mr. Montaldi is a bad egg. We're just glad he's out of Florida."
- Speaking of bad eggs, see the links at the bottom for more on Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Walker.
Smiley said earlier this week that the governor and his staff weren't involved in the selection of Montaldi and that he was chosen as part of a civil service hiring process.
Montaldi came under fire from Gaetz and other Florida lawmakers last year when the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel wrote a three-part series examining problems in the state's sex predator program.
The newspaper found the number of potential predators identified by the state dropped by more than 50% under Montaldi's leadership. The paper also publicized an essay that Montaldi wrote in which he said he believes sex offenders as a group are "statistically unlikely to reoffend."
- The fact is that the recidivism rate, as Mr. Montaldi states, is lower than any other criminal, but hey, who cares about facts, right?
Wisconsin officials at first defended their decision to hire him, referring to the problems in Florida as "an aberration that resulted from factors beyond his control." Initially, Walker's office referred questions about Montaldi to the state Department of Health Services.
Montaldi has not returned calls to his Florida phone number and didn't immediately return a phone call Wednesday.
On Monday, Gaetz — whose father is president of the Florida Senate — said Montaldi resigned shortly after his chief of staff was informed that Montaldi was being called before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee to answer for recent failures in the state's violent sex offender program.
- So what is success to these folks? Throwing everybody with the "sex offender" label in prison for life? Sure sounds like it to us.
Montaldi does have an impressive résumé, Gaetz said. But Montaldi's track record should be apparent to anyone interested in hiring him, the Florida lawmaker said.
- Unsealed email ties Scott Walker to secret email system (PDF)
- Scott Walker ordered chief-of-staff to fire doctor for past life as thong model
- Florida lawmaker says DHS should face "tough questions" about its new sex offender evaluation director