Local News

WRAL Investigates School Background Checks

Posted August 1, 2003

— A Wake County teacher's assistant was recently arrested at RDU International Airport after a customs check revealed he is wanted on fraud charges, but a background check conducted by the school did not turn up those charges. One reason could be the system relies on employees to tell the truth about where they have lived.

When Tony Allen showed up in Wake County court Friday facing dozens of credit card fraud charges from New Jersey, his employer had no clue of his past.

Since November 2002, Allen has worked as a teacher's assistant at Conn Elementary School in Raleigh. Before he was hired,

Wake County schools

ran the standard background check it performs on every employee, but under that check, the schools only research criminal records for areas where the potential employee says he or she lived. The schools do not verify whether candidates leave out addresses.

"If someone wants to skirt the issue or find a hole in the system, unfortunately, they probably can, but we're doing everything we can to find out before that happens," said Michael Evans, of Wake County Public Schools.

WRAL asked a private investigator to research Allen's addresses and found he listed 19 different homes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where the fraud charges originated.

Yvonne Owens, who has three children in Wake County schools, said she wants more thorough background checks.

"Who knows whether it's credit card fraud or what kind of person they might be," she said. "I think it's a good idea no matter how much it might cost because nowadays you can't just trust any and everybody as far as your kids are concerned."

"The expense to taxpayers for running a nationwide search for all 13,000-plus employees of the Wake County public school system would be enormous," Evans said.

WRAL found no indication Allen ever endangered any children. Also, background checks do not always turn up warrants if a person has not yet been arrested. Wake County school leaders have launched an internal investigation. Allen is being held without bond awaiting extradition to New Jersey.

Wake County employs more than 1,700 full- and part-time teaching assistants. Their duties typically range from assisting special needs students to handling paperwork for the teachers.

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