CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) - At least five members of Congress are calling for an investigation to be opened "immediately" into the hiring and vetting practices at the U.S. Census Bureau after a FOX 46 report uncovered the Charlotte office employed a registered child sex offender, for nearly a year, and promoted him to manager.
"They put, potentially, so many people at risk," a Census Bureau insider told FOX 46. "He was at many community events. He was at churches, parades."
Kenneth Mabry, 44, was convicted in Missouri in 2013 for attempting to molest an 11-year-old, according to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. He was sentenced to three years probation and required to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.
Mabry, who received a taxpayer-funded salary, was hired last August to recruit employees for the upcoming 2020 Census. He was promoted in January to manage the entire Charlotte region and would have been in charge of nearly a thousand employees leading up to the 2020 Census.
The government never noticed Mabry was on the sex offender registry until he was arrested again on March 12, accused of "engag[ing] in a sex act" with a nine-year-old girl.
In a letter dated Friday, Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) along with Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Rep. David Price (R-NC), Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), requested Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson immedietly look into the background check and hiring process at the U.S. Census Bureau.
The lawmakers questioned how Mabry's sex offender status was missed.
"It does not appear that this information was discovered, disclosed, or considerd disqualifying," the letter states, "which raises a number of questions regarding the screening process utilized by the Bureau."
"Although Mr. Mabry's role did not include home visits," the letter goes on, "this serious lapse could have put families, and children in particular, at risk and would have allowed Mr. Mabry to hire and oversee nearly one thousand employees leading up to the 2020 Census."
The members of Congress want the Census Bureau say "immediate and long-term steps must be taken to ensure that this egregious mistake does not occur again."
FOX 46 also uncovered that the Census Bureau was warned last year, six months before Mabry was hired, that its background check system was "inadequate" and "not fully prepared" for the 2020 Census by the government's own watchdog agency.
The 2018 Office of Inspector General report found the Census Bureau's background check office "not fully prepared" for the 2020 Census, citing "inadequate quality assurance practices."
"Unqualified or unfit" job applicants "may nevertheless pass a background check," the report warned.
Last month, Rep. Adams said she was "shocked" by what we uncovered and demanded answers and accountability.
"I don't think we'll know if we don't investigate what really happened," said Adams. "And I think we do need to know because this kind of thing should never happen again."
The Office of Inspector General did not respond to a request for comment but previously told FOX 46 they are "aware of this matter and will determine appropriate follow-up actions after evaluating the response by the Census Bureau."
The Census Bureau would not comment on the letter, but reiterated its previous position to FOX 46:
“The U.S. Census Bureau has and will continue to appreciate the oversight of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on all of our operations. This is an ongoing personnel matter. The Census Bureau takes very seriously its obligation to ensure that the people it hires, especially those who visit or personally engage with the public, do not represent a danger to any individual or community. We value the OIG’s recommendations and have taken actions to strengthen and improve our background investigations process to ensure the safety of the public.”