How criminals can get around driver background checks for rideshare, taxi services

Uber, Lyft, taxi drivers could have criminal records

MIAMI – After a long, heated fight, in-demand rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are now free to operate legally in Miami-Dade County.

However, some critics are saying that required background checks on drivers aren't through enough and in some cases are allowing for criminals to slip through the cracks.

This is because not every state, county or municipality posts their arrest records online -- making background checks a tricky task. 

"No background check system is perfect," Kasra Moshkani, general manager of Uber South Florida, said. "So even with fingerprinting, many things go missed." 

Security concerns  don't just apply to app-based rideshare services, but also traditional taxi companies. That's because only taxi medallion owners, not each driver, were subject to fingerprinting up until recently. And Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has confirmed that the county hasn't fingerprinted in years.

"We have repeatedly told them and given them a position paper that we don't want any of these regulations to go away because we think it protects the driver and the public both," Digeo Felician, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, said. 

Companies such as Uber use a system called Checkr, which includes county and state records.

However, this search comes with a problem. Not every state has the same public information online.

"Seven states do not report any or make available any type of criminal records through a database search," Kian Sarreshteh, chief executive officer of CDI, a screening company for regulated industries like nuclear and chemical facilities, said.

Sarreshteh said more than a thousand counties in the country have no records online.

Last month in Maryland, an Uber driver named Jonathan Hemming attempted to shoot officers arresting him on drug charges.

Hemming had a rap sheet that spanned several states and included charges of arson and armed robbery. In Florida, his records included battery on an officer and resisting arrest with violence.  

"There's no way that a database search would be able to pull any type of criminal records on an individual," Sarreshteh said.

An information gap, he said, could not just impact riders but potential targets like stadiums and airports.

"I think there's a huge concern," Miami-Dade police Lt. Antonio Rodriguez said.

He said that in the aftermath of March's fatal bombing in Belgium's airport, which happened outside security checkpoints, people need to be more aware of these possible safety threats.

"I think it's an eye-opener in the sense that it's a possibility," Rodriguez said.

Taxis have a designated airport waiting area, and while Uber and Lyft drivers aren't allotted the same perk, each make frequent trips to the airport daily.

"From a law enforcement perspective, I would want the personal information of everybody (who) drives into the airport," Rodriguez said.

In April, federal agents in Miami arrested Miguel Moran Diaz, who called himself a "lone wolf" supporter of ISIS. He was a convicted felon, owned a rifle that he described to be the perfect size to smuggle into a stadium and had recently started driving for Uber.

"People think that they're doing their due diligence, and they're not, and there's no measures that have been put in place since these incidents have occurred," Sarreshteh said.

Uber said its app, which shows riders a driver's name, photo and car, means safety protocols are in place throughout every ride.

"If you have that transparency, that accountability, that tracking -- that is, you know, a big piece of the pie here," Moshkani said. 

In April 2015, Uber agreed to pay $25 million to settle a lawsuit with the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles for misleading statements regarding safety and background checks. In 2014, Lyft settled a similar lawsuit.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.