History of problems at group home where predator lived - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

History of problems at group home where predator lived

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By David Gotfredson

LAKESIDE, Calif. (CBS 8 ) -- There's new information about the company managing a Lakeside assisted living home where a sex offender was residing when he allegedly fondled two neighborhood boys.

News 8 obtained court documents detailing a sexual assault ten years ago at a different Expanding Horizons home in Lakeside, where a female client was raped by a male client inside the facility.

Reporter Phil Blauer caught up with psychologist Steven Lefort at his office in La Mesa, where he runs the non-profit Expanding Horizons.

Lefort owns three assisted living homes in the East County, include the one involved in the current child molest case and one where the 20-year-old client was raped in 2000.

For the first time, Lefort reluctantly showed his face on camera to answer questions about the sex offenders living at his assisted living homes.

"What is not being reported is the years and years of service that we have provided to this community," Lefort said. "I feel our agency does an excellent job of providing a very necessary service."

Deputies arrested sex offender Joseph Cantorna September 12 for allegedly fondling two young boys near the home on Golden Ridge Rd. in Lakeside.

"I am extremely sorry that this had to occur. But I think we have to give Mr. Cantorna his day in court," Lefort said.

People in the neighborhood claim 55-year-old Cantorna was not being properly supervised.

"Sometimes he's been known to be laying near the street or in the street, which is disturbing because you'd think he was hurt," neighbor Kent Kopperud told News 8.

Dr. Lefort's clients living in the homes are developmentally disabled, some of them with criminal histories.

"If it wasn't for agencies like my agency, these challenging individuals would probably be placed on the streets or in their own apartment with absolutely no supervision," Dr. Lefort said.

Court records obtained by News 8 show in June of 2000 a male sex offender living at an Expanding Horizons facility on Rock Acre Dr. in Lakeside raped another client, a 20-year-old female, inside the home.

The male resident Enrique Ramirez, 27, pleaded guilty and was sent to prison.

The mentally disabled victim sued Expanding Horizons and Lefort, and won a settlement of nearly $300,000, the records show.

"It did occur 10 years ago," Lefort said. "It was something that occurred within the facility. It was not out in the community."

Dr. Lefort said his homes currently are in compliance with all state regulations.

But licensing records show Expanding Horizons was cited in recent years for failing to report a client had repeatedly run away, for lack of client supervision, and for not reporting criminal behavior inside the homes.

Some of those citations, Dr. Lefort says, he is appealing.

"We have not accepted those allegations and I think people need to know that," Lefort said.

Joseph Cantorna – the sex offender involved in the most recent case – has a criminal history of sex crimes dating back 37 years.

When he pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon in 1995 the judge released him on probation to Dr. Lefort's care for the first time, ordering that Cantorna was, "Not to be released on his own. Only to be released to a representative of Expanding Horizons."

Lefort says his residential homes are not lock-down facilities and his staff does their best to supervise clients.

"We are very aware that having these kinds of clients placed in the community setting poses potential problems," Lefort said.

Last October, Cantorna pleaded guilty to reaching under a woman's skirt and touching her. Again, Cantorna was released to the care of Expanding Horizons.

"We have two very important concerns, one is the safety of our clientele, and two is the safety of the community," Lefort said.

Expanding Horizons also runs an assisted living home in El Cajon.  The California Megan's Law web site lists yet another child molester as living at that facility on Bermuda Lane.

Internal Revenue Service tax returns show Dr. Lefort's non-profit paid him a salary of more than $166,000 last year. He also collected rent on the three homes he owns, to the tune of $97,000 in tax year 2009.

Lefort said in a telephone interview that he serves as executive director, administrator and psychologist for Expanding Horizons.  If he had to hire an outside psychologist, Lefort claimed it would cost him $250 per hour.

Sex offender Joseph Cantorna is scheduled to appear in court again on Thursday. He is represented by the public defender's office. Defense attorneys are expected to request a mental evaluation of Cantorna to see if he is fit to stand trial.

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