Convicted Va. sex offender heads back to prison after violating probation

Probation officer finds evidence in Charlottesville hotel room once paid for by the Department of Corrections

Convicted Va. sex offender heads back to prison after violating probation
Richard Shaffer (Source: Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney)

LOUISA Co., Va. (WWBT) - A Charlottesville convicted sex offender is headed back to prison after violating his probation, according to the Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

On Thursday afternoon, Rusty McGuire announced Richard Shaffer, 33, was sentenced to four additional years in prison.

On March 4, 2011 in Louisa County, Shaffer was sentenced to serve 10 years for sexual abuse of a toddler and 15 counts of possession of child pornography.

The Department of Corrections (DOC) released Shaffer in July 2020, and he was eligible for review for civil commitment as a sexually violent predator; he was not committed and therefore moved to Charlottesville and stayed in a hotel.

“He was released I believe around July 6, or thereabouts,” McGuire said. “I believe the Department of Corrections paid for it at least through late September, if not further.”

A spokeswoman for the DOC stated Shaffer’s room was paid for by the agency until Nov. 7, 2020, “as this was the day the homeless shelter opened for the winter.”

At some point, McGuire said a family member took over those costs, but the circumstance raised questions for him.

“My wife and I have gone sometimes to Charlottesville for sporting events and have stayed in hotels that we now know sex offenders are at,” he said. “I was like is this an isolated incident?”

It is not an isolated incident.

In 2009, 12 On Your Side Investigator Diane Walker exposed this aspect of taxpayer’s money footing the bill at hotels and motels across the state.

A check of the sex offender registry on Thursday shows several offenders listing hotels room across the metro across as their place of residence.

“That’s why I say this case is disturbing on so many levels,” McGuire said.

NBC12 reached out to the DOC regarding Shaffer’s situation, including the hotel room payments.

Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney responded stating part, “Providing temporary emergency housing for released inmates has been a DOC practice for decades, as the Commonwealth’s Attorney surely knows or should know.”

“Any inmate, regardless of underlying offense, might receive emergency housing help if the alternative is homelessness,” Kinney continued. “We help them find a place to stay so we know where they are and in the case of a sex offender, they have an address for the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry as well as a place to charge a GPS tracker.”

McGuire said Shaffer stayed at a Charlottesville hotel on the taxpayers dime for several months.

“He wouldn’t get a job, even though he’s required to,” McGuire said. “He also was not supposed to be on the internet. He’s not supposed be on social media accounts have email addresses… there’s a law that requires you to register those accounts.”

On Feb. 4, Shaffer’s probation officer made a surprise visit to Shaffer’s hotel room and discovered a cell phone that was unknown to the probation officer.

“They found not just his Facebook account, pictures of the victim from the original case - who he’s supposed to have no contact with,” McGuire said. “But what’s most scary is he had search terms on the internet which are consistent with seeking child pornography.”

According to the probation officer, during a previous visit, Shaffer had wiped information off a different phone.

“He was actively looking for the same behavior that got him 10 years in prison in the first place,” McGuire said.

Judge John Cullen sentenced Shaffer to four years in prison for the violations, despite the guidelines only being “probation, no incarceration.”

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

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

NBC12 also asked for the DOC how much its pays annually to house those offenders in hotels/motels, however, that information was not immediately returned.

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