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They were job seekers with dark pasts: convictions for burglary, retail theft, forgery, assault. Nonetheless, they were hired as airline security screeners in the United States despite government rules that should have disqualified them. Their employment with Argenbright Security Inc. has put the company, with 40 percent of the U.S. airport security market, on the defensive and alarmed those whose job it is to keep airline passengers safe. The company manned two locations that hijackers walked through on Sept. 11 as well as the Chicago checkpoint where a man passed through this month with knives and a stun gun. Argenbright has a history of security lapses that forced the company to plead guilty in federal court in Philadelphia in May 2000, and receive a $1.55 million penalty. The company promised not to hire or retain employees whose criminal convictions should have disqualified them. With fresh evidence of lax security, prosecutors brought Argenbright back to court last month, alleging they violated the previous plea agreement to fix the problem. “Even though it was sentenced … a year ago for an astonishing pattern of crimes that potentially jeopardized public safety … Argenbright … committed additional violations of the type which resulted in its prosecution last year,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in court papers. Attorney General John Ashcroft said last month the company had violations since the plea at 13 airports, including Dulles and Reagan National, near Washington; LaGuardia in New York; and the airports in Boston, Los Angeles, Trenton, Detroit, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Columbus, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle and Cedar Rapids. Under FAA rules, anyone convicted in the last 10 years for any of two dozen specified crimes should have been disqualified as an airport security screener. Argenbright declined comment Thursday on the problems. But Argenbright President Bill Barbour said last month, “Our goal has been and will continue to be adherence to federal aviation security regulations. We take very seriously any charges of noncompliance with any orders or regulations.” The company’s problems in Philadelphia since the plea have been laid out in court by prosecutors. � Four people with disqualifying criminal convictions were hired. One had been convicted of unauthorized use of an auto and receiving stolen property; another of drug violations, burglary and retail theft; a third of theft by deception and the fourth, drug charges. � Ten security screeners were retained in their jobs despite disqualifying crimes, including drug violations, resisting arrest, prostitution, burglary, forgery, retail theft and assault. � Four others not automatically disqualified under FAA rules were employed despite a company promise not to hire people with criminal backgrounds. Their convictions included election fraud, forging a drug prescription and carrying a firearm without a license. � Argenbright failed to check the background of a Detroit screener who said he served in the Yemen army between 1993 and 1997. The service itself wasn’t disqualifying, but “without verifying his tour of duty … Argenbright certified to the DTW (Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport) authority that they completed his background investigation, enabling him to receive unescorted access to DTW’s sterile areas.” Yemen was the location of the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. Argenbright spokesman Brian Lott said the company has 40 percent of the U.S. market in airline security screeners, employing 7,000 people at 35 airports. Douglas Laird, an airline security consultant and former director of security for Northwest Airlines, said the major problem with many airport security companies is poor management. “The people (screeners) never change,” he said. “What happens is the manager quits and they bring in someone who isn’t a good manager.” The company was ordered by a federal judge last month to conduct fingerprint-based background checks for all employees. The agreement is being overtaken by a new FAA directive, which requires fingerprint checks for all airport security employees by November 2002. The Atlanta-based Argenbright was sold to the British security conglomerate Securicor in January. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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