By Phil Drake
HELENA – For many shoppers Walmart is a mecca for good deals, variety and convenience.
For less than a handful of Montana’s 5,000 sexual or violent offenders, its parking lot is a place they call “home.”
A review by Montana Watchdog of the state’s Sexual and Violent Offender Registry (SVOR) found three sexual offenders claim one of Montana’s 13 Walmart parking lots – Bozeman, Helena and Missoula — as their place of residence.
The news came as a surprise to Walmart officials.
Walmart allows overnight camping for free at some of its locations, with recreational vehicles usually tucked away in underused portions of the parking lot. Many testimonials heralding the company’s generosity are posted online, with travelers stating they shopped at the store during their stay.
Walmart officials say their parking lot is not a place of permanent residence and said they would soon reinforce that fact with the state.
“We are going to reach out to law enforcement to ensure these individuals will not list our property as their residence again,” company spokeswoman Dianna Gee said.
She thanked Montana Watchdog for bringing it to her attention and said the company was unaware Walmart was being listed as a person’s address. “We had no way to know.”
Gee said store managers grant overnight parking based on factors such as available space on the parking lot and local laws.
“Permission is never granted for an extended period for time,” she said, adding the company monitors its parking lots.
Recently, Legislative Auditor Tori Hunthausen received a letter from Mike Batista, administrator with theAttorney General’s Division of Criminal Investigations, saying resources within the Department of Justice – which oversees the SVOR – were being reallocated to help local agencies locate and prosecute sexual and violent offenders who have not verified their addresses.