Background investigations nothing new for firm contracted by diocese


CHARLESTON — At the beginning of this month, the Diocese of Charleston began a process of using the results of background screens for determination regarding the eligibility of an individual for ministry or other service to parishes throughout the state.

William A. Sharp, vice president of Fidelifacts/Metropolitan New York Inc., the firm contracted by the diocese to conduct the screens, said his company has been in business since 1956, when it was established by former Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to conduct the same type of background checks for private companies as those done by the U.S. government.

Currently, the company has 10 offices located across the country, employing several hundred investigators.

At first, Sharp said, Fidelifacts worked primarily with bankers, brokers, and others employed in the financial industry. Their scope, however, has changed dramatically over the years, as his company now works with organizations employing anywhere from one to two individuals to thousands.

In the past five years, he said, the screening of health care type agencies, or those who work as caregivers, has increased substantially. Some states, such as Wisconsin, even mandate background checks for doctors and nurses, Sharp said.

He added that most organizations “are still in a start-up” situation concerning such screens. “It’s still in the early stages.”

In South Carolina, the State Department of Law Enforcement (SLED) check until recently cost $25, a fee Sharp called “excessive” and “the highest in the country, that I know of.” He said most states charge an average of $12 for the service, with $15 being the next highest. This summer, a law was passed in the State Legislature decreasing the rate to $8, and Fidelifacts is now working with state officials to be able to attain that lower price for SLED checks.

Sharp said he hopes that the lower fee “opens the floodgate” for organizations looking to conduct basic background screens.

In the diocese, a criminal record search will be done for all clergy, seminarians, religious brothers and sisters, employees, covered volunteers, and independent contractors providing services to the diocese. The search may be by county or by state depending on the person’s residence(s) during the past three years. According to Sharp, about 90 percent of arrests occur in the county in which the individuals’ live.

Any individual who is excluded from employment, volunteer service, or contractual relationship due to the information obtained from the background investigation reports must be provided a copy of the “Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” and a copy of his/her report, said Sharp.

Next week: Explanation and examination of the role of the Screening Review Committee.