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Shelter employee accused of sex crimes can’t work near migrant children, Kansas officials say

A ThinkProgress investigation prompted officials to look into the shelter.

Credit: The Villages Inc. Facebook page
Credit: The Villages Inc. Facebook page

Kansas has ordered an employee at a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children not to work near kids after an investigation by ThinkProgress revealed his history of sex crimes allegations.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) asked The Villages, in Topeka, Kan., to voluntarily fire its human resources officer, Jeffrey J. Montague, after the revelations about his background emerged in July. When The Villages declined, DCF ordered that Montague not work in an area near children, according to agency spokesperson Taylor Forrest.

“Mr. Montague will be required to either work offsite or stay in a location with absolutely no access to youth,” Forrest told ThinkProgress by email. “DCF expects strict enforcement of this plan, with no exceptions, throughout Mr. Montague’s employment with The Villages. We remain focused on the safety and well-being of Kansas children.”

DCF cannot force The Villages to fire Montague because he does not have “prohibiting offenses that keep him from employment,” according to Forrest.

Back in July, two former Villages employees told ThinkProgress that Montague was in regular contact with the shelter’s youth.

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“The kids literally have to walk past his office to get to the counselors,” Myra Gillum, a former case manager at the shelter, said. “He has direct contact with them all the time.”

Sylvia Crawford, The Villages’ executive director, did not answer questions about why it chose to keep Montague on staff over DCF’s objections or what measures it has taken to keep Montague physically separate from the children it houses.

“The Villages is in full compliance with all applicable regulations regarding personnel and will not publicly comment on specific employees,” Crawford said by email. “The Villages will continue to serve all children in need — providing loving, safe homes, emotional support, and adults who care for children who need our help.”

DCF began “actively looking into” The Villages after ThinkProgress reported in July that the Boy Scouts of America had banned Montague, now 63, from participating in its activities in 1989 when allegations surfaced that he made sexual advances on an exchange student at the high school where he worked. The school elected not to renew Montague’s contract after the incident, according to records from the Boy Scouts.

In October of 2007, Montague was charged with solicitation of sodomy in a public park in Topeka, Kansas, according to court records. He entered a diversion agreement one month later in Topeka Municipal Court.

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The revelations about Montague’s background prompted Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer (R) to ask The Villages to fire Montague. When The Villages declined, Colyer asked DCF to “look into” Montague’s employment at the shelter.

“While it appears that the rules governing federal contractors allow his continued employment at this facility based upon the technical letter of the law, it is our hope that The Villages will choose to do the right thing for the vulnerable children they serve and separate him from this position based upon the information publicly available,” spokesperson Kendall Marr told TV news outlet WIBW.

The Villages has a $5.9 million contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to house unaccompanied migrant children that runs through January 2020. It had taken in 190 migrant children as of July, according to local Topeka NPR affiliate KCUR.

At least one former employee warned The Villages’ lead case manager, Judette Padilla, about Montague’s troubling history before it became public.

“I’m not going to go searching for Jeff’s background,” Padilla said in a recording obtained by ThinkProgress. “I am not concerned, because I know he passed all the background checks he needed to pass to work with kids.”

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The former employee, who spoke with ThinkProgress on condition of anonymity, asked Padilla whether she would leave her own children with Montague.

“Well, yes I would, because I know Jeff,” Padilla answered. “So, I mean, in that aspect of it, I’ve known his family and him for thirty-plus years.”

Montague and Padilla did not respond to previous requests for comment.