When it comes to our children’s safety, cutting corners can be devastating. The nation’s largest youth softball organizations are under the microscope for possibly doing just that. USA Softball, the Amateur Softball Association of America, Inc. and ASA of Southern California are going to trial accused of pocketing money meant for background checking coaches.
The scrutiny started after a teenaged girl was molested by her coach back in 2012. Jose Lopez pleaded no contest to having sex with the girl several times over a six month period. He was sentenced to two years in the county jail. Lopez did have some kind of a background check– or at least the league charged parents money to screen him and the other coaches. But during discovery in the criminal case, attorneys found that the defendants only spent a fraction of the money they collected on actual background checks. There is no trace of the rest of the cash.
According to court papers, this shoddy screen missed convictions on armed robbery, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, DUI and many others. Lopez’s probation officer even noted that these convictions “reveal a possible pattern of behavior relating to inappropriate behaviors towards juveniles.” And still, Lopez reported to the field as a “certified coach” wearing a badge with the words “Background Check” in bold letters and a checkmark.
Attorney Jason Fowler says their research has found that the “screening program” the three softball organizations tout is nothing more than a cash cow. He found that the cheap background checks that were conducted missed the mark on several levels. First, they didn’t get all of the information one needs to do a criminal history search. They collected the coach’s name, driver’s license number and current address. In the Lopez case, when they searched his name, they actually searched the wrong name, and they never even bothered to use the other two pieces of information. Most glaringly, they didn’t search the applicant’s Social Security Number. This is an essential step in any background check. The SSN allows researchers to make sure they are looking at records for the right person; it also tells them what jurisdictions they need to search. A SSN trace will show you where your applicant has lived. Moving across state lines is all it would take to hide a lengthy criminal record if an employer only checks current addresses.
The young athlete’s attorney says that had the organizations done a proper check, Lopez never would have had the chance to hurt a child. The California Supreme Court is allowing the issue about the adequacy of the background screening to go to trial. Lopez and the three softball organizations are all listed as defendants. The young lady and her attorney are asking for significant damages.
Moral of the story: If you say you do background checks on your employees—DO them and do them well. If you are a parent, don’t trust -- ask questions.