Worker fired amid criminal probe into Iowa security IDs

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa employee responsible for issuing private security guard licenses was fired Tuesday for ethical violations amid a criminal investigation into whether his agency has been improperly granting the credentials, The Associated Press has learned.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety fired Joseph Sheehan Jr., a clerk at its headquarters building in Des Moines, following a nearly three-month paid leave and misconduct investigation that the agency had refused to confirm for weeks.

Sheehan was removed from the workplace Aug. 16, and the department opened a criminal investigation four days later "after a routine review raised concerns related to the issuance of security guard identification cards," DPS said in a statement to AP. The cards are required for employees who work at private security firms, such as those who guard homes and businesses and drive armored cars, and they require applicants to pass criminal background checks.

The agency did not detail Sheehan's alleged misconduct. But an internal investigation found Sheehan violated five department policies, including those governing employee ethics, requiring timely and accurate reports, barring incompetent performance and requiring employees to follow orders, according to a termination letter obtained by the AP under the open records law.

The letter said his employment "has been counterproductive to the best interests of the Department" and that his actions were unacceptable.

Sheehan, 59, "did not show" to Tuesday's meeting where he was to be given notice of his firing, according to the letter, signed by Public Safety Commissioner Roxann Ryan. A phone number for him was disconnected, and he didn't respond to an email seeking comment. He made $46,301 last year and earned roughly $10,000 during his paid leave.

The criminal investigation remains open, the department said, and the state auditor's office has been brought in to review identification cards that have been issued.

Iowa law requires anyone who operates a private security business to obtain a two-year license from the department and to obtain ID cards for all of their employees. Applicants are required to be 18, have no prior convictions for felonies and aggravated misdemeanors and have no history of alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness or violence.

Sheehan, who had been with the department since 2005, processed and issued licenses and renewals for security businesses and employees. The department is supposed to conduct fingerprint-based criminal history record checks on applicants and verify that businesses have the required liability insurance.

As of 2016, more than 8,000 active ID cards had been issued to private security, investigative and bail enforcement employees, department data shows. A two-year business license costs $100 while each ID is $10. Employees are supposed to carry them while on duty.

The AP asked about the criminal investigation and Sheehan's status Oct. 4 after receiving a tip, but the department's public information officer, Sgt. Nathan Ludwig, never provided answers despite numerous inquiries. Another official provided information Tuesday night, as the midterm elections were underway.

The case marks the second time in two years that the department has come under scrutiny for improperly issuing official documents. Former administrator John McPhee pleaded guilty to misconduct in office in April 2017 after acknowledging he falsified test scores that were used to grant certifications to more than 2,400 firefighters and emergency personnel.