AUBURN — His name is John Stevens, he's 43 and homeless since a fire destroyed his Augusta apartment last March. And though his driver's license is suspended and he's without car insurance, he commutes 62 miles a day to panhandle near the Burger King off Mount Auburn Avenue.
He's also a convicted sex offender and a felon, though you wouldn't know it from his sign soliciting help.
"They booted me out of Augusta," Stevens said Wednesday as he solicited donations from passers-by. "I got two different tickets out of two different towns, Waterville and Topsham. This is the only place I can go and the cops don't bother me."
Sgt. Christopher Shaw of the Augusta Police Department said Wednesday that Augusta has no specific ordinance against panhandling, but police have been charging panhandlers around the Wal-Mart and Marketplace shopping centers with trespassing at the request of store owners. Police had received a number of complaints about the growing number of panhandlers there, including a complaint about one man who had a roll of several hundred dollars, all $20 bills, on him when he was charged.
Augusta police never charged Stevens with trespassing, and had no record of any contact with him panhandling in Augusta.
Stevens was convicted in 1997 in Kennebec
County Superior Court of unlawful sexual contact. He was sentenced to serve four years, with all four years
suspended. His victim was under 14 years old. According
to the Maine State Bureau of Identification, he is considered a
sexually violent predator as a result of that conviction.
According to the Maine Sex Offender Registry, his permanent address
as of Sept. 3, 2009, was an apartment at 382 Water St.,
"It's a motel place, and we stayed there because I have a friend
there that kinda stays there," Stevens said Wednesday. "I have to have a permanent address."
He asked that his sex-offender status not be reported "because I would really get in problems with people up here if they had
any idea. I ain't no pervert and I don't chase children."
Stevens' criminal record includes three felony convictions,
including a burglary conviction in 1986 when he was sentenced to serve
three years in jail, with all but 90 days suspended, the 1997 sex
conviction and a conviction in 1988 for unlawful trafficking in
scheduled drugs and theft by unauthorized taking. He was sentenced to
serve five years in prison on the 1988 charges, concurrent with
sentences for convictions of misdemeanor assault, burglary and theft.
He also has 14 misdemeanor convictions, including convictions for theft, assault, criminal mischief and criminal trespass.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, his license to drive is under suspension indefinitely following an accident in Augusta in early October after he was unable to provide proof of insurance. Stevens' license has been suspended four times before the most recent suspension.
His Maine driving record includes seven convictions for speeding violations between 2001 and 2009, and convictions for failure to yield right of way, operating after suspension, littering from a motor vehicle, violation of Maine's seat belt law, improper passing, hitchhiking and failure to obey a traffic signal.
According to a Kennebec Journal report, Stevens leaped from the second floor of his burning apartment building at 62 Chapel St. in Augusta last March, and was caught by two police officers as he hit the ground. The cause of the fire was later determined to be an aging electric pencil sharpener left on in another apartment while the tenant was away.
Jerry Fleury, the building's owner, said Stevens and his wife had been renting the apartment for about five months before the fire. They lived there with their two cats, and had no children. Fleury said Stevens had a bad back and was not employed when he lived at the Chapel Street building.
Fleury remembered seeing Stevens panhandling at the Augusta Wal-Mart for months after the fire, but then he disappeared. Early this week, Fleury drove to Auburn to shop at The Home Depot and was surprised to see Stevens panhandling on Mount Auburn Avenue with the same sign he used to panhandle in Augusta for six months.
Stevens, who has appeared in at least one local television news cast, recently called the Sun Journal to publicize his story.
"My wife gets paid bi-weekly," he said, adding that he can't work because he's disabled. "She don't make enough so we can get into an apartment. It kills me to be up here (asking for money)."
He said he's been fighting more than two years to get disability payments and has been denied multiple times. He's now waiting to go before a judge. He's also on pain medications and said he argues with the state all the time "because they won't pay for them."
Of the panhandling, Stevens said it was "better than stealing."
"I could be out thieving and stuff and probably make more money, but I can't do it with my back," he said, pocketing nearly $30 during the 20-minute interview.