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After 53 arrests, chronic subway groper could face life in prison

NEW YORK - About two weeks after he was released from prison, Freddie Johnson was arrested on charges of illegally rubbing up against a woman on a crowded Manhattan subway train.

It is a fairly common crime in New York. But this was no common criminal.

Johnson has been arrested a staggering 53 times - the majority for allegedly groping women on subway trains.

In his latest arrest, Johnson was being followed by plainclothes officers who recognized him from police photos. He was charged with persistent sexual abuse, and if convicted this time he could be sent away for life.

But the fact that Johnson was roaming the subways in the first place has raised questions about how the state deals with the problem of repeat sex offenders. His case even drew the scorn of a recent newspaper editorial that labeled him the ""Subway Rat.'

His attorney, Afsi Khot, had no comment on the case.

Johnson, 49, has been convicted at least twice of persistent sexual abuse within the last decade. And he has a lengthy rap sheet, with 30 arrests on charges of sex abuse, 13 on jostling accusations and two grand larceny charges.

Prosecutors say they aren't sure whether Johnson chose his subway targets before boarding trains, or if he would randomly pick out a woman after he was on a train. In his latest arrest, the undercover transit officers said it appeared that he chose the woman at random, district attorney's spokeswoman Jennifer Kushner said Monday.

In a jail interview with the Daily News of New York, Johnson said he never touched that woman. However, prosecutors have said he was carrying a messenger bag over the front of his torso, slid it to the back to illegally rub up against the woman, and then moved the bag back to the front to avoid being caught.

He was released from prison March 25 after serving four years for persistent sexual abuse. The state attorney general's office had argued that he should be confined under the state's civil commitment law for sex offenders, which went into effect last year, because he was at risk for repeat offenses.