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TSN Senior Correspondent

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Former Chicago Blackhawks video coach and convicted sex offender Brad Aldrich says there’s a key ingredient behind the growth of his glass-etching company: university and college-aged interns.

Eight years after he was sentenced to nine months in prison plus five years of probation for sexually assaulting a then-16-year-old high school hockey player, Aldrich is chief executive of a glass-etching company called OcuGlass.

On his company’s website, Aldrich touts OcuGlass’s ties to several universities and colleges, which he says provide the Calumet, Mich.-based business with interns.

“OcuGlass plans to continue to recruit and work with college student talent in all areas of their business,” Aldrich wrote in a March 13, 2019, post on the company site. “We are proud of the program that has unfolded, and we are extremely grateful for the efforts and contributions of the interns.”

According to Aldrich’s post and local media reports, OcuGlass began operations in 2013 with four full-time employees. By 2018, it had grown to employ 30 workers, and the company said it hired 16 interns between 2015-2019 from schools including Michigan Tech University, Finlandia University, Gogebic Community College, Northern Michigan University, Ferris State University, Michigan State University and Arizona State University.

Besides his conviction for assaulting the teenaged hockey player in Michigan, Aldrich is also accused in a lawsuit filed in May in Illinois of sexually assaulting two Blackhawks players. Michigan police records indicate Aldrich was also investigated for alleged “inappropriate” and “uncomfortable” sexual contact between Aldrich and at least two other minors, but charges were never laid.

Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who specializes in sexual violence prevention, said it would be a mistake for schools to continue sending interns to work under Aldrich.

“It’s high-risk behaviour. He’s in a position of power over young men who are subordinate to him, and based on his conviction, he’s clearly attracted to late teen and early 20s young men,” Jeglic said in an interview with TSN.

“One thing you teach offenders is to stay away from situations where they may have the opportunity to reoffend. I don’t think, given the allegations against him and his conviction, that this is a good idea. If I was in charge of these internship programs, I would not continue with these programs.”

Even so, the chance of offenders like Aldrich reoffending drops with each passing year that stays out of trouble, said Ira Ellman, a retired law professor who now serves as a scholar at the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ellman said statistics show that upon their release from prison, roughly 20 per cent of offenders are likely to reoffend. Every five years, that percentage halves, he said.

"It's much more difficult for him to get away with something than someone without a criminal history," Ellman said in an interview with TSN. "So, you have to ask yourself, what's the risk that somebody poses who clearly was a risk at one point but who now has been offense free for nearly a decade?"

Neither Aldrich nor his lawyer, Sarah Henderson, responded to email requests seeking comment.

Jared Peryam, a former football player at Finlandia University in Hancock, Mich., who is among several student athletes listed as one of OcuGlass’s interns on the company’s Instagram account, refused an interview request.

“He’s a great guy,” Peryam wrote in a message to TSN. “Everybody makes mistakes. It’s in the past. People change.”

After TSN’s inquiries, OcuGlass made its Instagram and Twitter accounts private.

Finlandia University said a “small number” of its students had interned at OcuGlass and that it was looking into the company’s intern program.

"We want to assure you, and the campus community, that we understand the significance of the situation and are conducting a full and thorough investigation of the matter, including whether any current or former Finlandia students have been subjected to sexual harassment while interning at OcuGlass. We cannot provide further specifics at this time because our investigation is ongoing, but we are committed to ensuring that all of our students learn in a safe environment free from harassment.”

Several schools highlighted by OcuGlass on its website deny having any formal link to the company.

Arizona State spokesman Jerry Gonzalez wrote in an email to TSN that the OcuGlass has not been vetted by the school as an approved employer.

“Arizona State University does not have a connection to OcuGlass, nor are they approved to recruit or hire from ASU,” Gonzalez wrote. “Not sure why they used our name on their webpage. I assume it is possible for something like an ASU online student who lives in that part of the country to land an internship with that company on their own. But if they have, it wasn’t something sanctioned by the university.”

Spokesmen for Michigan State University and Northern Michigan University both said OcuGlass was not registered with their career service offices for formal internships. Neither would say whether they would ask OcuGlass to remove references to their schools.

Michigan Tech spokeswoman Stefanie Sidortsova wrote in an email that the Houghton, Mich., university does not conduct background checks on potential employment destinations of students, whether permanent or temporary, and can’t confirm how many students from the school have interned at OcuGlass.

“Because internships are arranged between students and employers, the university is limited in its ability to influence the internship progress,” Sidortsova wrote.

In his 2019 post about OcuGlass’s intern program, Aldrich also described a co-op program the company runs with Dollar Bay High School in Dollar Bay, Mich. Students design and make three-dimensional prints for OcuGlass’s production line, Aldrich wrote.

Dollar Bay High School principal Christina Norland confirmed the program.

"Our high school program has a business relationship with OcuGlass," Norland wrote in an email. "Students 3D-print a hard-to-find part that OcuGlass needs. This work is done at Dollar Bay High School, not at the OcuGlass facility. Our point of contact from OcuGlass is a different employee. Mr. Aldrich has not worked with or been in the presence of our students on any occasion."

U.S. federal law requires states to register sex offenders and to notify the public when a convicted sex offender moves into a community. Aldrich is among 39,918 registered sex offenders in Michigan, a Michigan State Police spokeswoman told TSN.

As a “Tier two” offender (there are three tiers), Aldrich must verify his information twice yearly for 25 years after his 2014 release from prison. Failure to comply could be a felony.

Being on a public database of sex offenders means that with a few keystrokes, anyone can find the 38-year-old former NHL and U.S. Olympic Team assistant coach’s home and work addresses in Hancock, Mich., discover the make and model of the vehicles he drives, and read that Aldrich is 5-feet tall, weighs 145 pounds, and has brown hair and blue eyes.

The state government database also allows searches by address, meaning anyone can pull up the names, photos, and other personal information of the 11 registered sex offenders, Aldrich included, who live within two miles of his home in Hancock.

But for the most part, Aldrich faces few restrictions over how he lives his life.

“He can’t live near a school or daycare centre or a public park but there’s really no requirements for offenders to avoid and not walk past those areas,” said Sam Bennett, a defence lawyer in Royal Oak, Mich., whose clients include sex offenders.

“Being on that public registry is probably the hardest thing for [Aldrich] right now,” Bennett said. “If you murder someone, you do your time and you’re released. There’s no page you have to register for that says you killed someone. But people who get in trouble for a sex crime have that follow them around – sometimes for the rest of their lives. One of my clients had to throw his son out of the way as a truck tried to run him down because someone had found him using that registry.”

Corey Markham, head coach of Houghton High School’s hockey team, says he routinely sees Aldrich around town.

“He’s living life like he did nothing wrong,” Markham said in an interview. “I’ve seen him back out at the bars… having a good time.”