PITTSBURGH — The purpose of the sex offender registry is to track convicted sex offenders, as well as to warn and protect nearby residents.
But depending on where they live, sex offenders can easily change their names.
In Massachusetts, all it takes is $150 and a judge's signature.
Mike Plusch took that step in 2013, three years after he pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14.
He's also on the Massachusetts sex offender registry.
"It's sort of a life sentence," Plusch said. "I couldn't do a job doing maintenance work. I'm a MIT grad and I can't even do minimum wage maintenance work? I was homeless for four months sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in the back of my truck."
Despite being classified as a tier three sex offender, the most likely to re-offend, Plusch was able to change his name to Mike Stanley.
While the majority of states have no limitations on sex offender's changing their names, Pennsylvania has some of the strictest laws in the country.
Any felon convicted of a violent or sex-related crime like rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault or aggravated in decent assault cannot legally change their names in Pennsylvania.
"If you're trying to usurp the system because of a conviction of a very violent offense or a sex crime offense, it's not going to happen in the state of Pennsylvania," said criminal defense attorney Phil DiLucente.
Victims advocate Alison Hall, with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, said Pennyslvania's strong laws are a plus, but don't prevent anyone from moving here from a state with less restrictive laws.
"They're on the list and people are watching," Hall said. "So when you have people coming in potentially from other states or changing their names under the radar screen, I would think it would make people very nervous."
Part of the sex offender registry includes a known aliases section, which requires offenders to list any legal name changes.
Anyone on the registry moving to Pennsylvania would also be required to report their new address.
Plusch said he didn't change his name to Mike Stanley to avoid the registry, but to avoid Google searches.
His goal is to run his business peacefully, not avoid the consequences of his crime.
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