Violent felons sent into homes as service workers
There are no federal laws requiring background checks for service workers such as TV installers or handymen, and only spotty local laws requiring service companies to do background checks. But some of those workers are actually violent felons who have even attacked customers inside their own homes.
Sally Bock's little girl was just 4 when she was chased around her own living room by a sexual predator. He was there to fix the family's fireplace, sent by a company Bock trusted. "It was a well-known company that did lots of work in homes around Seattle," Bock said, so she figured the worker they sent was safe: "I had no reason to stop and think differently."
All seemed normal: He came in wearing a uniform and started working. But while the baby sitter was in the next room, James Warning turned his attention to Sally's daughter, playing just feet away.
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"He said to her, 'Let's play a game. I want you to be as quiet as you can,'" Bock said. "He exposed himself to her and started to touch himself. He wanted her to take off her clothes, and she managed to keep the couch between herself and him so he wasn't able to touch her.
"It was terrifying," Bock said. "It's a feeling of total loss of control."
Even more terrifying, James Warning had a criminal past as a violent felon who had spent 15 years in prison for attacking another little girl. His rap sheet includes convictions for kidnapping, attempted child molestation and attempted murder. That reputable company that sent him never did a criminal background check.
"And we let him into our living room," Bock said. "It was the most horrific thing anyone should ever go through in their lives."
Warning was caught and thrown back in prison. While cases like his are rare, convicted criminals have been sent to work inside people's homes from Chicago to Memphis to New York.
Lucia Bone runs an organization fighting for tougher regulations. Her sister Sue Weaver was murdered by a Florida contractor sent to work in her home in 2001. It turned out he was a twice-convicted sex offender on parole. "Like so many consumers, she assumed that the company she hired would be sending safe workers into her home," Bone said of her sister.
"If the law isn't changed, it's going to keep happening," Sally Bock said.
"There needs to be federal legislation requiring proper criminal background checks," Bone said. "Legislation that is strong and has teeth in it, and would protect consumers."
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Yet there is no pending federal legislation that would mandate background checks for home service workers. Victims say they're now hoping to get the attention of lawmakers. They say many companies won't do the checks unless they're forced to, because it can get expensive.
If you're having work done in your home, ask the company about their background check policy: Do they screen workers?
Also, invite a friend over and watch your kids closely when workers are at your house; that way you're not alone. If a friend can't come over, call someone if front of the worker and say that "John Smith from such-and-such company is here." That way the worker knows someone else is aware.
Of course, most workers are perfectly safe. But victims say you should never let your guard down.
—By Jeff Rossen and Josh Davis, TODAY.com.