WXYZ News Warns Home Service Provider Dangers // Part 1
Women say duct cleaner with criminal history stalked them after slipping through background check
(WXYZ) – Two women share some frightening stories about the same man they say terrorized them. He came to their homes when they responded to ads from a major department store to have their air ducts cleaned.
What is disturbing is that this serviceman is a career criminal with a history of harassing women. 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis discovered this is not uncommon. Criminals are slipping through the cracks and into peoples’ homes.
Do you know who you’re letting into your home? You can’t always be sure, even when a company says it does background checks.
“How has this affected your life?” Lewis asked Carrie Smith, who called for a serviceman to clean her air ducts.
“He’s violated it. He’s ruined my life,” she said.
For nearly a year, Smith has been looking over her shoulder, living in fear of Jason Meinke, a habitual criminal. It happened when Smith moved from Las Vegas to Detroit. She and her son settled into this rented home in Keego Harbor.
“My son and I have allergies,” says Smith. “And I was wanting to get air duct cleaning.”
Smith had three flyers but decided to call Sears, a name she thought she could trust. Two men showed up in a Sears’ truck, one of them was Meinke.
Smith went into the basement with Meinke’s partner to check out the air ducts. When she came upstairs, she saw Meinke coming out of her bedroom, and it gave her the creeps.
The next day Smith says, “I started receiving vulgar sexual text messages.”
Several vulgar texts including one that talked about having someone urinate in their mouth. Smith called police, and they traced the messages to Meinke’s cell phone. He told the cops his phone had been stolen and he later got it back. Police didn’t buy it and they discovered something else disturbing when they went to Carrie Smith’s house. Someone had unlocked a window behind the bushes and left it cracked open.
“It petrified me,” said Smith. “I thought he was going to come into my home and do something.”
What Smith didn’t know at the time is that Meinke has a long criminal record and a history of stalking and harassing women. The 7 Action News Investigators found seven personal protection orders against Meinke taken out by seven different women over 11 years.
He has six criminal convictions, misdemeanors and felonies going back to 1999, according to court records. Meinke’s latest conviction in 2011 is for aggravated stalking.
“He’s like a bad penny. He doesn’t go away,” said Beth Morgan, another Meinke victim, according to courts records of his felony stalking case. Morgan met Meinke when she called Sears years ago to get her air ducts cleaned.
She says he came off as a charming guy and asked for her screen name on instant messenger.
“And honestly, because he worked for Sears…I thought it was safe to get to know him,” said Morgan.
Chatting turned into dating and then a relationship. When Morgan discovered Meinke’s dark side and criminal history she tried to shake him but she couldn’t. She said he started stalking her.
“He would let my phone ring off the hook to the point where I wouldn’t answer the phone anymore and he would call 30, 40, 50, 60 times in a row,” said Morgan.
Morgan says Meinke threatened to kill her and her family. She kept going to police, but it took years to get him charged with stalking.
“I wasn’t taken seriously,” she said. “I was just basically told to make the report and that if he should come around again that I was to call them immediately and they would come.”
Morgan said she was with Meinke when he was arrested one time, and he told her to go to his house and get something out of his bedroom. She found something very disturbing.
Morgan said the walls were lined with backpacks stuffed with used women’s underwear and plastic bags full of used feminine products.
“My first reaction was to want to vomit, honestly,” said Morgan. “I just, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
That makes Smith’s run-in with Meinke even more frightening. This police report says police believe Meinke sent the vulgar texts – but a year later, no charges have been filed.
Frustrated and fearful, Smith turned to attorney Jim Hubbbert for help. He said he can’t get a straight answer on who is responsible for hiring Meinke and sending him into Smith’s home.
“Are they giving you the runaround?” Lewis asked Hubbert.
“They are,” he said. “At this point my client’s only recourse is a civil suit.”
So who is responsible for hiring this career criminal?
The investigators found out Sears doesn’t actually do the duct cleaning. It is done by a Sears franchise operation called Creative Carpet Care in Wixom.
When Lewis went there to confront the manager Dave Valzayek, he said he did a background check on Meinke.
In fact, Valzayek provided a copy of a background check that was done in December 2010 saying Meinke passed.
How is that possible? Meinke had just been released from prison a few months earlier. That’s information anyone can get for free on the Michigan Department of Correction’s web site .
Meinke’s entire criminal history is available to anyone on a state police web site called ICHAT for $10.
“You cannot be hired if you are convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor or a bad driver’s license or a DUI,” said Valzayek.
“And he had all of that, except the DUI and they passed him,” Lewis pointed out.
“The proof is right here sir,” said Valzayek, showing a document that says Meinke passed the background check.
That raises some troubling questions. How many other Meinkes are out there? And, could you be unknowingly inviting criminals into your home?
To find out, 7 Action News Investigators traveled to Orlando, Florida for a meeting of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. We talked to Mike Coffey, a respected expert in the field. He said what we uncovered with Meinke is not uncommon because background checks often miss things.
“A lot of your really large employers, especially those who hire lower wage employees don’t do their due diligence,” said Coffey. “They just rely on the data base or some instant quick inexpensive background check.”
Sears Holding, the parent company in Chicago told me the local Independent franchise is responsible for hiring employees and doing background checks, using nationally recognized providers. They say Meinke passed two checks done by a company called HRPLUS in Chicago.
HRPLUS wouldn’t comment about how Meinke passed their background check citing privacy laws.