License to prey on kids?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

For most kids, the biggest danger associated with the neighborhood ice-cream truck is the brain freeze they get from gulping down their purchases.

Columbus officials want to keep it that way, so they're vowing to change the way they screen and monitor ice-cream truck drivers and everyone else required to get a peddler's license from the city.

The system now in place contains gaps that have exposed young customers to ice-cream vendors who, because of recent criminal histories, should have been barred from the job.

"It's not comprehensive enough," Barb Seckler, the city's deputy public safety director, said of the existing system. "We're going to be more aggressive with vendors, all 566 of them."

Seckler said the city will step up police patrols to make sure drivers hired by ice-cream truck operators possess the necessary peddler's licenses. What's more, she said, new background-check procedures will ensure that those licenses weren't obtained fraudulently.

In a case last summer, a vendor working for Captain Tom's Ice Cream tried to lure a 15-year-old Columbus boy into his truck with the offer of $20 to have sex.

The teen got away and eventually helped Franklin County prosecutors make a case against the driver, Larry Daniels.

Daniels, 50, pleaded guilty to importuning. Because he already had a criminal record that included pandering sexually oriented materials involving a minor, he shouldn't have been selling ice cream on the street in the first place.

Daniels couldn't be reached for comment.

Robert Croskery, an attorney for Captain Tom's, said the company did nothing wrong.

"Captain Tom's strives to provide good products by trustworthy drivers," he said. "We do all that we legally can to bring that about."

Captain Tom's fired Daniels as soon as it learned of his background, a revelation that left the company "astounded," Croskery said. The attorney pointed out that Daniels obtained the required peddler's license, indicating that he had been vetted by the city.

"I think the breakdown here is the city didn't check thoroughly enough," he said.

People who sell goods door-to-door or on the street in Columbus must have a peddler's license from the city. To get that license, they must undergo a criminal-background check. Those with recent felonies are disqualified, said Sharon Gadd, the city's licensing manager.

"We want to make sure these individuals are reputable and they deserve a license," she said.

Columbus has been asking license applicants to secure their own background-check reports from the sheriff's offices in their home counties and then present them to the city, an approach that has opened the door to deception.

The background report on Daniels had been doctored to leave 15 blank lines where child-related offenses had appeared. His criminal history should have disqualified him, but it had been deleted.

Seckler said the regulatory gaps that allowed Daniels to obtain a peddler's license are "unacceptable."

She said the city would order equipment that will enable its licensing officials to take an applicant's fingerprint and send it electronically to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. The bureau will conduct a statewide background check -- as opposed to a review of a single county's records -- and forward the results to the city.

The cost of the more-comprehensive check -- $22 -- will be passed on to the applicant.