A News4 I-Team investigation found men who plead guilty to statutory rape of children are able to avoid the sex offender registry.

In one case, a man who pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl when he was 46 years old was able to avoid the sex offender registry and become a karate instructor for children.

Court records show in 2009, Mark Cruz entered a guilty plea for statutory rape of the then fifteen-year-old girl.

Cruz was originally charged with three counts of aggravated statutory rape and one count of statutory rape, and the court records show that the aggravated charges were dropped while Cruz pleaded guilty to the lesser statutory rape charge. 

The indictment lists the times the fifteen-year-old victim said Cruz had sexual relations with her, claiming that she said he loved her and wanted to manage her career as a singer. 

In the notes for the guilty plea, it states that Cruz is to stay away from his victim and her family, but, as part of the plea, he does not have to appear on the sex offender registry.

Attorney David Raybin, an expert on the state’s criminal laws, said the law reads that those who plead guilty, for the first time, to statutory rape, are not required to be on the sex offender registry.

Raybin points out that the law gives a judge the discretion to put even a person who pleads guilty to statutory rape on the sex offender registry, but that often it doesn’t occur because it’s part of a negotiated plea.

“The law gives the judge the discretion to put the person on or not. But that's a negotiations tool,” Raybin said.

A News4 I-Team investigation found the plea allowed Cruz to take a job teaching children karate at studio in downtown Portland, TN.

In order to confirm that Cruz, in fact, taught children, a member of the News4 I-Team spoke with Cruz outside the studio and asked what age of children he taught.

Cruz responded by at first saying that he taught ten years and up, but then clarified to say he taught ages seven through ten.

At that point, the News4 I-Team approached with a camera to ask him questions about his guilty plea and if he thought it was appropriate that a man with his criminal background was teaching children.

Cruz told us repeatedly to leave the property and would not answer questions.

When the News4 I-Team later reached out to him to request another interview, he declined.

In an undated Youtube video posted by Cruz, he goes into a lengthy explanation of what happened in the case, saying that the girl was brainwashed into making the accusations and that he was innocent.

“Look me up. You won't mind my name on any predator list. Because I'm not a predator,” he said in the video.

Cruz suggests in the video that he made the plea to keep his voting and gun rights.

The News4 I-Team found two other cases in Nashville in the past year where men pleaded guilty to statutory rape of children and were able to avoid the sex offender registry. 

In one case, the victim was younger than thirteen years old.

Raybin said in some statutory rape cases, prosecutors may want to spare the young victim from having to testify during a trial and agree to the plea deal.

In other cases, Raybin said, a victim may be unable to testify and the evidence is not as solid as prosecutors need, and a plea deal is offered.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said they are only following the law.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the News4 I-Team's Chief Investigative Reporter. He has won multiple Midsouth Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Awards.

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