state auditor rob sand guard card fired employee

State Auditor Rob Sand (left) on Thursday discusses results of a special investigation his office conducted, along with the state Department of Public Safety, that resulted in a department employee being fired. Also pictured at Thursday’s news conference in the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines are Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens and two employees in the State Auditor’s Office, Annette Campbell and Melissa Finestead. 

DES MOINES — A state public safety employee was terminated and may face legal action after it was determined that at least 5,817 “guard card” licenses were issued to companies on behalf of the private investigators, security guards or other uniformed personnel they employed without national background checks, the state auditor said Thursday.

State Auditor Rob Sand and Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens told a joint news conference that former state employee Joe Sheehan Jr. failed to ensure appropriate procedures were performed before issuing the licenses for private investigator, private security and bail enforcement licenses.

Nationwide and Iowa background checks, which are supposed to be conducted on each, are used to discover whether the applicants have criminal convictions for aggravated misdemeanors or felonies that would disqualify them.

During the period from July 1, 2016, through Aug. 15, 2018, that was the subject of a special investigation.

Sand said his agency determined that 5,817 licenses were inappropriately issued during that time. Since then, Sand and Bayens said they have been able to establish the validity of all but 598, and that 20 to 25 licenses that had been given state approval were revoked due to improper procedures or disqualifying criminal convictions. The licenses normally expire two years after the date of issuance.

Officials said that because of insufficient documentation, it was not possible to say if Sheehan had also performed Iowa background checks before issuing provisional licenses.

“The Iowa Department of Public Safety holds the public’s trust in extreme regard,” Bayens told reporters. “When an employee allegedly engages in conduct that tarnishes that trust, we take it seriously. Once the Department of Public Safety discovered the conduct identified in the auditor’s report today, we took swift action to investigate and remedy what had occurred.”

Sheehan was placed on leave Aug. 16, 2018, and terminated Nov. 6, 2018, according to documents released in the special investigation.

Sand said there was no evidence of any financial impropriety, and Bayens said the matter has been referred to the Polk County Attorney’s Office for further review and possible legal action.

“As of now, we have resolved 90 percent of those permits in question and anticipate resolving the remaining 10 percent in the next 60 to 75 days,” said Bayens.

“The Department of Public Safety is unaware of any situation where an individual was harmed as a result of this,” he added.

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The commissioner said his agency adopted recommendations by the auditor to strengthen the licensing system with “stop gaps and fail safes” to remove potential vulnerabilities and ensure more than one person is involving in the permitting process.

Sheehan was responsible for collecting fees associated with the licenses and depositing them with the administrative staff, Sand said.

However, there were not adequate records available to compare collections received with collections recorded for the licenses. As a result, he said, it was not possible to determine if all collections received were properly deposited.

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Sheehan began employment with the state Department of Public Safety as a temporary clerk specialist in the Program Services Bureau on Dec. 6, 2004. He became a permanent, full time employee in April 2005 and continued with the state agency until he was fired. As a clerk specialist in the Program Services Bureau, he was responsible for the issuance of licenses to private investigation, private security, and bail enforcement agencies and individuals employed by the agencies, according to the special audit report. State records show he was paid $47,094 in fiscal 2018.

The three types of licenses issued to individuals are commonly referred to as “guard cards” by staff.

The fee is $100 per license. In addition to completing the application, two fingerprint cards are required for the individual completing the application and two color photos of the applicant are required. There is a $30 fee for fingerprints and a $10 fee for the application, according to the auditor’s report.

Employees working for bail enforcement, private investigation or private security services also must obtain individual “guard cards” at a cost of $15 by mail or $10 if obtained at the Department of Public Safety.

Sand said the situation came to light Aug. 14, 2018, when the Linn County Sheriff’s Office received an application for a weapons permit from an individual who had an extensive criminal history outside Iowa, which should have prevented him from obtaining a guard card. However, the individual had an active card.

As a result, a representative of the sheriff’s office called an agent of the state Division of Criminal Investigation to determine why the individual had not been denied a guard card.

As a result of the concern, the DCI agent contacted Sheehan and requested he pull the individual’s file and provide it to the program’s bureau chief — who has since left the department — for his review, according to the auditor’s report. Discrepancies uncovered in August 2018 led to a determination that a number of guard cards had been improperly activated without supporting fingerprints or background checks.

“Due to the concerns identified by the former bureau chief, Mr. Sheehan was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 16, 2018. On Aug. 22, 2018, the Office of Auditor of State was notified of the irregularities. As a result, we performed procedures detailed in the Auditor of State’s report for the period July 1, 2016, through Aug. 15, 2018, on Nov. 6, 2018, Mr. Sheehan was terminated from employment,” according to the report.

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