June 3, 2010 -- An investigation by reporters at an ABC station in North Carolina has uncovered a loophole in North Carolina law that allows sex offenders from out of state to move to North Carolina without having to give register as sex offenders.
The investigative team at the ABC-owned station in Raleigh-Durham, WTVD, found that dozens of people listed on the national sex offender registry because of convictions in other states for offenses like rape and sexually abusing children are now living in North Carolina, but a search of the state's sex offender registry doesn't turn up their names.
Under North Carolina state law, sex offenders who were convicted or released from prison before 1996 and moved to North Carolina before December 2006 do not need to register in North Carolina.A search turned up 32 people in three of North Carolina's largest counties whose names appear on the national sex offender registry but not on the state registry.
One of those individuals is Robert Fish, who was convicted of a sex offense in New York state in 1996 before moving to North Carolina. Fish was sentenced to three years of probation for having actual sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl.
Reema Baloch told WTVD she met Fish via the internet in September 2001 after he moved to Raleigh. She said she lived with him for two years and had a child with him.
She said it wasn't until earlier this year while in the midst of a custody battle with him that she discovered his past.
"I got up and I started yelling and just horrified and scared," she recalled.She had checked the state registry for sex offenders multiple times in the past, but not the national registry.
"I had a feeling in my heart that there's something not right about him. And so one day, I went to the national registry," she recalled. "And that's when I discovered it."
She found Fish listed on the national sex offender registry -- with an address in Apex, N.C. -- but he does not appear on the North Carolina sex offender registry.
"No one knows. No one has any idea he's a level 3 registered sex offender," said Baloch. Fish's national sex offender registry entry gives his risk level as 3, meaning that he is considered high risk.
Fish is not an isolated case. WTVD discovered 26 sex offenders in Wake County, which includes the state capital of Raleigh, who are on the national registry but are not required to register in North Carolina. There are five more in Cumberland County and one in Durham County.
WTVD contacted Robert Fish to request comment on this story. He declined.
State Rep. Tim Moore, R.-Cleveland County, who has co-sponsored previous sex offender laws, said that he planned to address the gap in existing state law.
"First of all, thank you for doing this story," he told WTVD, "because it's bringing to the attention of legislators something that we need to look at."
"It's my intent to come back and file a bill to fix this loophole we have," said Moore.
Baloch said she was shocked that lawmakers had not been aware of the loophole previously.
"I mean it's ridiculous. It should not happen," she said. "And that's why there are future victims out there, because people can't keep their children safe, because they have no way of knowing."