Serial Rapist, Twice Deported, Had License, Mortgage, and 44K Job.

The average North Carolina resident probably assumes that local, state and federal governments are better coordinated to fight terrorism today than they were before the Sept. 11 attacks four years ago.

But the case of Gilberto Cruz Hernandez — illegal Mexican immigrant accused in a series of rapes — suggests otherwise.

On his third try at illegal immigration, the 24-year-old Hernandez hit the jackpot in the Piedmont Triad, settling with unnerving ease into the mundane fabric of everyday life.

He landed a job at a Greensboro printing company and earned $44,000 a year.

Last year, the same federal government that twice deported him put its financial might behind a $123,000 Federal Housing Administration loan that allowed him to buy a brand-new house in Winston-Salem.

Although he was ticketed 11 times for speeding and other driving infractions by the Highway Patrol and police in High Point and Winston-Salem, none of the traffic stops resulted in his detention as an illegal immigrant, a prior deportee or a potential threat to public safety.

That’s true even though at least one of his stops in High Point occurred after police officers suspected they’d interrupted a crime in progress when Hernandez pulled out of a closed car sales lot one night in December 2000.

Neighbors in two cities say he didn’t arouse their suspicions. Officials at the company that sold him a home in Winston-Salem say it wasn’t their job to check his immigration status.

His employer says Hernandez’s documentation checked out “absolutely fine,” although — in hindsight — some might have been forged.

Police now contend that Hernandez’s seemingly nondescript facade hid a night burglar, a masked man with a Spanish accent who terrorized women in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem in a series of eight sexual assaults between May 2004 and Feb. 22, 2005.

Today, Hernandez is in the Forsyth County jail awaiting trial in Forsyth and Guilford counties. Federal immigration authorities also have issued a detainer on him, meaning they want to deport him again once he is either acquitted of the state charges or is convicted and serves prison time.

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