What Do Bernie Madoff, Al Capone and The Unabomber Have In Common? Understanding Federal Criminal Background Checks

Nick Fishman

Federal Criminal Background Checks for Employers

If you’re running a criminal background check by adhering to best practices, including a search in each county to determine if your candidate has any convictions on his/her record, then you might consider your employment background screening program both thorough and accurate. On the other hand, if this does not describe your current program, you should consider submitting a request to find out how EmployeeScreenIQ helps clients create a comprehensive screening program tailored to their needs.

But even if your background check company conducts a thorough search, there could be another piece of the puzzle missing: what if your candidate was convicted of a federal crime?

Well-known federal convicts include Bernie Madoff, former Illinois Governor’s Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan, John Dillinger, Al Capone, The Unabomber, John Gotti and Aldrich Ames.

Unfortunately, a county criminal background check would not include these federal convictions or any others.  However, there is a good way for you to search for federal convictions without breaking the bank: a Federal District Criminal Records Search.

Basics of a Federal Record Search

Federal District Criminal Record Searches identify criminal activity prosecuted through the federal court system. Criminal activity prosecuted in Federal District Courts typically involves violations of the Constitution or other federal law. These crimes include tax evasion, embezzlement, bank robbery, kidnapping, mail fraud and other federal statute violations.

There are 94 federal judicial districts throughout the country, including at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Three territories of the United States – the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands – have district courts that hear federal cases.

And as mentioned previously, federal criminal convictions do not appear in state or county felony and misdemeanor court record searches. Therefore a federal district search is imperative if such records are needed. Each state is comprised of several federal districts.

How Is the Search Conducted?

As with a county criminal background check, the best way to know where to conduct your search is by conducting a Social Security Number Trace which reveals each address where someone has lived and what names they may have used.  The trace will also reveal the federal districts that are associated with those addresses.

The best practice is then to search each federal district under each name revealed.  This is done through the federal court’s PACER system.

The good news is that PACER searches can be conducted within a matter of minutes.  The bad news is that the only identifier used in the system is the person’s name.  Well, I’m sure you can imagine what happens when your top candidate’s name is John Smith, for instance.  That’s right, you have to follow up on each potential record to assure the record actually belongs to that person.  Unfortunately, that can delay the process, but any reputable background screening company will do the heavy lifting on your behalf.

Who Can Benefit From a Federal District Search?

The short answer is that anyone can benefit from this search.  As mentioned, it is an inexpensive check an in most cases can be completed in a short amount of time.  And while, we have seen greater widespread use of this search in the last several years, there are some industries and job responsibilities where it is more prevalent.

For instance, many of those in regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services, insurance and transportation utilize this search.  We’ve also seen a greater adoption of this search by those who conduct business with state and federal governments.  Beyond the industry trends, we tend to see consistent usage of the federal district criminal search for positions which include financial responsibilities: Accountants, CFO’s, Controllers, etc.

Now that you’ve added a federal district search to a thorough county criminal background check, you can rest easy knowing that you are doing everything to arm yourself with the information you need to make an informed hiring decision.

Now that you’ve read about how one type of criminal record search is done, you might be wondering about other options available for criminal background checks. For more information on the pieces needed for a comprehensive criminal background check, download our article, “Time for a Wake Up Call: Are Your Criminal Background Checks Giving You a False Sense of Security?”








Nick Fishman
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Nick Fishman

Nick Fishman is the co-founder of EmployeeScreenIQ, a leading, global employment background screening provider, and serves as the company’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. He pioneered the creation of EmployeeScreen University, the #1 educational resource on employment background checks for human resources, security and risk management professionals. A recognized industry expert, Nick is a frequent author, presenter and contributor to the news media. Nick is also a licensed private investigator in the states of Ohio and Texas.
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