Sex offender using a fake name to work at Lee County Fair arrested

Reporter: Breana Ross Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
James Tennant (Credit: Lee County Sheriff’s Office)

A Southwest Florida sex offender faces charges after being arrested while working at a fair. Deputies say James Tennant gave a different name to pass a background check to work at the Lee County Fair.

On a day at the fair, you’d expect to find families, food and fun, not a fair worker who is a sex offender with a fake identity in a place full of kids.

“I am really not happy about that. I mean, if you were going to do something and be around children and families and staff, that is not a good thing,” said Wayne Bowling of Alva.

“What is he doing there?” said Michael Canon from Venice. “He should not be working there.”

A Lee County Sheriff’s Office arrest report says Tennant used a fake name, James Martino, to avoid background checks and score a job at the Lee County Fair. On Tuesday, deputies got a tip and arrested Tennant for failing to register as a sex offender.

It turns out Tennant has done this before and was caught working at carnivals in Lake County and Manatee County without registering as a sex offender.

“These people shouldn’t be allowed to just change their name and be around families and little kids and so on and so forth,” Bowling said. “I think they should be doing a lot more background checks.”

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office says they did run a background check on Tennant, but because he was using a different name, he went undetected.

WINK News Safety and Security Specialist Rich Kolko said background checks should be a must to work in places like the fair. “They want to protect themselves, and they want to protect their customers,” said Kolko. “Don’t want these people working in this type of environment where there’s a lot of kids certainly a danger and a problem for everybody involved.”

“He was working at a game where you throw the dart and pop the balloon and win a prize. He was working for another company that rents that space from Reithoffer Shows,” said Mike Peak, president of the board of the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair.

Rick Reithoffer, with Reithoffer Shows, said he runs background checks himself on all of his employees. For the independent companies who rent space from him, he collects the names of their staff and hands them over to LCSO to do the background checks.

James Tennant worked for one of those independent companies and said his name was James Martino. “Where this guy kind of slipped the system was he gave us a false name using a false identity. We turned it in and ran background checks but I think the sheriff’s department actually came up with the fact that it was something unkosher about the ID,” said Reithoffer.

That was only after the sheriff’s office got a tip. Those in charge of the fair said they are glad Tennant is off their fairgrounds.

“We were naturally very upset about it. We are out here to have a good time and everybody that comes to the fair, we want to make sure that they’re safe and that they’re here to have a good time so we don’t anyone like that on our grounds,” said Reithoffer.

Tennant faces five years in prison, five years probation and a $5,000 fine for failing to register as a sex offender.

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