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Audit: State Failed To Run Background Checks For Licensed Private Security Guards, Investigators

stephan bayens
Katarina Sostaric
Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens speaks to reporters at the Iowa Capitol Aug. 22, 2019.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety failed to conduct nationwide background checks before issuing more than 5,800 licenses to private investigators, security guards and bail enforcement officers, according to an investigation released by the state auditor’s office Thursday.
As a result, DPS found 20 to 25 people received a “guard card” license when they should not have. Aggravated misdemeanor and felony charges disqualify an applicant from getting a license.

Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said he is unaware of any individuals being harmed.

“There’s no suggestion that someone, as far as we’re aware of, was assaulted or anything along those lines among those 25 or so that were improperly issued in the sense they were otherwise barred from being eligible to obtain a card,” Bayens said.

The auditor’s office found there was one DPS employee, Joe Sheehan Jr., who was responsible for submitting Iowa background checks and nationwide background checks for applicants. He allegedly failed to conduct 5,817 nationwide checks from July 2016 to August 15, 2018, meaning convictions from outside of Iowa could not be detected.

Bayens said there’s an ongoing criminal investigation, so he won’t speculate on Sheehan Jr.’s intent.

“Based on our investigation thus far it did not appear that there was any intent behind it where that individual was receiving some sort of tangible benefit for doing this,” Bayens said.

Bayens added there is no evidence of embezzlement, as Sheehan Jr. was also responsible for collecting licensing fees. There are still questions about how the money was handled because the auditor’s office found proper records were not being kept.

And Sheehan Jr. worked for DPS prior to July 2016, so it is possible there were more missed background checks.

Sheehan Jr. was fired in November 2018, but the auditor’s office has recommended some changes to the DPS licensing process to help ensure this doesn’t happen in the future.

DPS and the auditor’s office have yet to address about 10 percent of the 5,817 licenses that were issued without background checks.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter