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Child-sex offender suspected of trying to recruit new prospects from jail

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Gino Rael, 26, is a registered sex offender who received a four-year deferred sentence in 2006 for enticing a child. So what did he allegedly do while in Boulder County Jail this summer on unrelated charges? Sent letters to young girls whose photos he and a couple of buddies saw in newspapers attempting to lure them into a pen-pal relationship -- and who knows what else.

According to a motion quoted by the Boulder Daily Camera, Rael, who's due in court on Tuesday, attempted "to start a dialogue" with the letters' recipients, "saying their names are cool, they were special enough to get a letter in the mail, and that he and his roommate, Damien [Whitehead, another registered sex offender], were bringing back 'old fashioned letter writing.'"

And old-fashioned creepazoid behavior.

Rael is accused of violating terms of his sentence by writing the letters, but Whitehead and a third inmate, Michael Buzick, don't face any charges at present because the statutes that might have been used against them are all specific to luring over the Internet, not snail mail.

Nonetheless, Division Chief Larry Hank, who oversees the jail, says, "the gentlemen in question are on administrative segregation status. They can't send out any mail that isn't unsealed, so we can look, because of the fact that there's an ongoing criminal investigation. I'm not letting them send anything out that's sealed until we have a resolution."

Hank notes that "the policy of the jail is, we do not open and read outgoing mail unless we have reasonable suspicion to believe the letter details the possible commission of a crime -- that somebody's plotting to do a crime with somebody else, or it contains information about a criminal act. And incoming mail we open and search in front of the inmate, but we don't read the content unless we have reasonable suspicion that it has to do with criminal conduct."

In addition, each outgoing letter from an inmate "is stamped 'inmate correspondence' and 'uncensored,' so that the person receiving the letter should understand that it has not been read or censored."

In light of the Rael matter, however, Hank says he's rethinking this approach. "I'm looking at going to postcards instead of letters for outgoing mail" unless the correspondence involves legal communication such as contact with attorneys. "One reason is budgetary, but the other is because of this investigation. If we have things on postcards instead of sealed envelopes, I don't think we'd have the same issue."

What about inmates' expectation of privacy?

"I think right now they probably have an expectation of privacy, because of our policy," he concedes. "Years ago, I talked to the postmaster general, and he said that until we put a letter into a U.S. mail receptacle, we can open anything in their eyes. We don't do that unless we have a reason to suspect something. But if we have open postcards, I'm not sure inmates will have the same expectation of privacy."

Many inmates not trying to chat up prepubescent girls may have a problem with that. The parents of girls who received Rael's letters this summer? Probably not.

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