WXYZ // Woman on a crusade for change after her sister was murdered by an air duct cleaner in Florida // Part 2
Last Updated: 3 hours and 15 minutes ago
DETROIT (WXYZ) – When you have work done at your home, do you know who’s coming to your door?
Two local women thought they were safe calling Sears to have their air ducts cleaned.But it turned into a nightmare after a convicted felon with a history of harassing women showed up to do the work.
This could happen to you too, even if the company you hire does background checks.
A 7 Action News Investigation reveals that background checks aren’t always done by service companies and when they are done, they’re often unreliable.
You’ll hear about a woman on a crusade to tighten things after her sister was murdered by a duct cleaner in Florida.
First, a case that hits closer to home, involving a man named Jason Meinke.
Meinke is no stranger to the court system. He’s had seven personal protection orders filed by seven different women. He’s had six criminal convictions since 1999. He even did time in state prison for a computer crime.
So why was a man like this sent into people’s homes to do air duct and carpet cleaning?
Two women say they were terrorized by Meinke after they responded to ads from Sears for air duct cleaning, and Meinke was sent out by a Sears franchise operation to do the work.
“I started receiving vulgar sexual text messages” said Carrie Smith.
Smith said the text messages came the day after Jason Meinke came to her home. According to police reports, detectives traced the messages to Meinke’s cell phone. Police later discovered someone had left a window unlocked at her home. No charges have been filed in connection with the vulgar texts.
Beth Morgan says she also had a terrifying experience with Meinke. Morgan started dating Meinke years ago after he came out to clean her air ducts. Meinke turned into a stalker. The harassment went on for years until he was convicted of aggravated stalking in August.
According to court records Meinke worked at the Sears franchise operation that does the air duct cleaning for 7 years. The company, Creative Carpet Care in Wixom, told 7 Action News that Meinke passed at least two background checks, including one that was done after his release from prison.
The 7 Action News Investigators asked Lucia Bone, the founder of a non-profit called C.A.U.S.E, if Meinke should have been allowed into people’s home with his criminal background.
“Absolutely not, there is no way,” Bone replied.
“I understand that we need to give back to society and to give people a chance. But there are limitations.”
Bone’s organization is an acronym for consumer awareness of unsafe service employment. She started the group after a family tragedy, the murder of her sister, Sue Weaver, a case with parallels to Jason Meinke’s story in Michigan.
In 2001, Sue Weaver hired a prominent department store called Burdines in Orlando, Florida to clean her air ducts. A Burdines subcontractor sent out two convicted felons, one was a two-time rapist named Jeffrey Hefling. Six months later, Heffling returned to Sue Weaver’s home, raped and murdered her and set a fire to cover up the crime.
In this case, there was no background check done.
“A background check could, and should have saved my sister’s life,” said Bone
Bone said on the night Hefling was arrested, her 78 year old mother did a Google search of his name.
“And he came up as a registered sex offender in the State of Florida and it said occupation A-C repairman, caution, extremely violent and dangerous toward women,” said Bone.
There are no laws, state or national requiring background checks for in-home service workers. And when companies do background checks, you can’t always trust them.
“I hear from employers all the time, I just need a quick and easy background check. I just want to make sure he’s not a murderer,” said Mike Coffey, a recognized expert in background checks.
Coffey says employers, especially large companies often do it on the cheap, relying on criminal data bases that are notoriously inaccurate.
“I often tell employers if that’s all you’re going to do just put your money in escrow for your attorney fees because something’s going to happen,” Coffee told 7 Action News.
Coffey said a thorough background screening requires checking local court records in every jurisdiction a person has lived, instead of relying on national data bases which are inexpensive to use but often miss criminal convictions.
Jason Meinke passed a background check for the Sears franchise operation, even after serving time in prison for a felony computer crime. The Action News investigators found his criminal convictions through simple internet searches and his personal protection orders in local court files.
Lucia Bone says in-home service workers with criminal backgrounds often slip through the cracks creating a dangerous situation. “I believe there’s a job for everyone. Everyone has a right to work, just not in my home,” said Bone.
Bone travels the country trying to warn people of the potential danger from in-home service workers.
“It might be an air conditioner repairman, a delivery person for furniture. You never know, at one time or another we all need service work done at our homes,” Bone told Action News.
Bone is also pushing for legislation requiring thorough background checks for in-home service workers, and encouraging companies to be responsible and do it on their own.
Background investigator Mike Coffey says it makes sense for companies to be thorough.
“I mean to spend $150 to $200 on a background check that’s really, really thorough for somebody that your sending into somebody’s home, to me, is like a no-brainer,” Coffey said.
In the meantime, Lucia Bone says there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Ask the company if they do a background check. Ask what type of background check they do and if they rely on a criminal database or check local court records, which is more thorough. Bone says you should also ask the service provider what disqualifies someone from working at their company.
“They might have a policy that disqualifies rape, but they don’t disqualify stalking, or they don’t disqualify drugs. Know who you hire. Know who you open your door to. Don’t be alone with a service employee. Invite a friend over for coffee,” said Bone.
The C.A.U.S.E. web site will soon add a new feature certifying companies that have done the most thorough background checks. Anyone will be able to and check companies for free by zip code The site will also show you a picture of the technician coming to your home.
You can find out more about Bone’s organization at sueweavercause.org.