Registered sex offenders are legally allowed to change their names in Massachusetts and 25 Investigates found the State Sex Offender Registry Board does not track how often this happens. It turns out, neither do probate courts or law enforcement.
In January, Boston 25 News reported on Michael D. Stanley, a Brighton man who has gained national attention for his futuristic idea called Transit X. Transit X used solar-powered pods that travel on a network of thin, elevated tracks 15 feet above the ground. Stanley believes his company could revolutionize public transportation all over the world.
Days after the story aired, an anonymous tipster emailed 25 Investigates with information about Stanley’s past. It turns out Stanley was born Michael D. Plusch. He legally changed his last name in Essex County back in 2013.
Stanley pleaded guilty, in 2010, to four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 and served time in prison. When he got out of jail the sex offender registry board classified him as a Level 3 sex offender, considered most likely to re-offend.
In a follow-up interview, Stanley told 25 Investigates he changed his name after he was released from prison because his sex offender status made it difficult for him to find a job. He said it wasn’t to conceal his status, but to avoid search engines like Google.
"Even somebody with my background, education, and self-confidence had enormous difficulty in just doing basic life functions, housing, getting a job. The registry is one of the cruelest forms of shame and punishment that we can possibly have as a society.” Stanley said.
Nineteen states either prohibit or place limitations on sex offender name changes, but not in Massachusetts. In the Commonwealth, anyone can go to probate court and request a legal name change from a judge.
Attorney and victim advocate Wendy Murphy is not surprised a sex offender would want to distance themselves from their crimes.
"This is a special category of crime we're talking about with high recidivism rates, offenders who are notorious for trying to evade compliance with the registry. It's just hard to believe that neither law enforcement nor the sex offender registry board is tracking these name change situations,” Murphy said.
When you search the registry for Michael Stanley both his last names are on the website. His former name Plusch is listed as an alias.
Andy Harris, a professor at UMass Lowell, has been studying sex offender registries across the country. He said the point of the registry is to keep track of where offenders are living and working. Harris says a legal name shouldn’t be a factor if the offender reports it.
"Anybody who is searching for that individual should be able to find that individual regardless of whether or not they changed their name in the system if that old name is appropriately reflected,” Harris said.
But what about offenders who aren't following the rules?
There are nearly 200 Level 3 sex offenders in Massachusetts currently in violation. We found that almost a third of them have multiple aliases.
In a statement from a spokesperson for the Sex Offender Registry Board writes,
"A legal name change won’t allow a registered sex offender to evade detection because the Sex offender Registry Board maintains all offenders’ legal name changes and aliases in the database. This information is available to both law enforcement and the public, regardless of whether they search by a current or former name."
Stanley says he's stepped down as CEO of Transit X and is still hopeful that his vision to change the transportation world will succeed."You can't change what happened. I am so sorry for what had happened. I'm making the best of a second chance" said Stanley "If you're trying to use a second chance to save the world which will help millions of people, I think that's a good use of a second chance."
"When a sex offender changes their name, it defeats the purpose of the sex offender registry,” she said.
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