THE VICTIMIZER’S TALE: Don’s landlord is a man on a mission

More than a house links Don to his landlord.

Both men have strongly stated Christian beliefs and have served time in prison: Don for his sex crimes and the landlord for a drug offense that got him a year in the federal penitentiary in Sandstone, Minn.

Jon Hinchliff, who coordinates community sex-offender notification for the Minneapolis Police, says Level III offenders have a hard time finding places to live. Therefore, a few property owners have developed something of specialty renting to them. One is Gregge Johnson of suburban Elk River, who owns the Lyndale neighborhood property where Don lives.

Johnson, owner of Five Star General Construction, said he has 80 properties in Minneapolis, Florida, Colorado, Canada, Champlin and Anoka.

He said doesn't know for sure, but he guesses that only about three or four of them house sex offenders.

Even though Johnson helps the Department of Corrections place convicts, he said he doesn't know how many men just out of prison rent his units. The landlord said he doesn't know Don and isn't familiar with his crimes.

But Don knows his landlord.

"If it weren't for Gregge Johnson, I'd still be in prison," he said.

Don said if he hadn't been able to secure a residence, Corrections Department officials wouldn't have released him. It makes the $430 per month for his one bedroom - utilities included - well worth it.

Johnson said all he's trying to do is give people getting out of prison a second chance.

"When [convicts] get out, society keeps on punishing them and punishing them and punishing. So a lot of people think I'm a jerk 'cause I rent to these guys."

Jonathan Palmer, the former president of North side's Jordan Area Community Council, said it's not that simple; Palmer said Johnson doesn't screen his tenants.

In late 2003, Palmer and Councilmember Don Samuels (3rd Ward), who represents Jordan, led a protest of 10-15 community members at Johnson's Elk River residence.

Said Palmer, "This is somebody who was taking the worst offenses and just dumping it into an impacted neighborhood. A lot of property owners, like Gregge Johnson, will just go ahead and rent to anybody. It matters little what happens around the neighborhood."

Said Samuels, "Gregge Johnson seems to be a very devout, if you could use that word, Christian guy. In fact, he wrote me subsequently to that protest that we did in front of his house and he had platitudes of helping the poor, etc. So clearly he, in his mind, sees himself as devout. But the bottom line is, he owns a lot of slum property."

Responded Johnson, "It sounds like a real good comment from him; I can turn that scenario around 20 different ways, but I'm not a prejudiced man. God made us who we are and I'm just not a prejudiced person.

"If there's something I'm prejudiced about, it's about smoking. But other than that, skin color, age, I've just never been that way."

With a laugh, Johnson said, "You know what we ought to do, you have to call your state legislator and you have to execute all these guys, regardless. If they're Level III, if that's what they're classified, you need to call your legislator and tell 'em you want 'em all executed. Or we can take the whole state of Iowa and we can put a great big fence around the whole state of Iowa, because nothing's really in Iowa at all. And we can put all these guys in the state of Iowa."

In a way, Johnson's property in Lyndale represents the sort of deconcentration Palmer advocates. Southwest has far fewer registered Level III sex offenders than the North side.

Johnson said he wouldn't bear any of the blame if a sex offender he rents to commits a crime while living in his residence.

"Well, I look at it like this here," Johnson said. "We're all sinners before God. We all deserve death."