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Fired firm supplied felons as school guards

| Friday, Feb. 3, 2012

A Mercer County school district this week fired its private security firm after inquiries from the Tribune-Review revealed the company improperly provided guards who are felons, including one who is a registered sex offender.

Two former supervisors at Pond Security accuse the company of breaking at least two state laws by hiring a felon to work as a security guard and stationing another guard with sex crimes on his record inside public schools.

"I'm very disappointed with the whole thing," said Grove City Area School System Superintendent Richard Mextorf, who confirmed the district dismissed Pond Security on Wednesday. "You hire a company to do a service, and then you get swept up in this kind of stuff.

"Our first responsibility is that people here aren't putting the kids in danger. The safety and security of the kids is No. 1," Mextorf said.

Kelly Sieber, the Shaler-based executive director of Pond Security in the United States, acknowledged the guards had criminal backgrounds but said the company did not know about one of them, Noble Ramsey, a felon from Aliquippa.

"When we found that he had a criminal record, we fired him," Sieber said. "We take these things very seriously."

She said she received clearance from prosecutors to hire the other guard, Dennis Leroy Claypoole Jr., a registered sex offender from Grove City.

But former Pond supervisor Eric Colamarino, 20, of New Stanton, and former operations manager Garrett Kimmell, 32, of Plum, said Sieber and director of operations Rick Holland knew of the guards' backgrounds.

"It was no secret that I had an issue," said Ramsey, 44, an Army veteran. "Pond made a judgment call when they hired me. ... They willingly and knowingly hired a convicted felon, and I appreciate that they gave me a chance."

"Kelly and Rick told me that my clearances didn't allow me to work at certain schools because of my juvenile record, but they said certain schools did allow it," said Claypoole, 30, who acknowledged he was adjudicated delinquent as a minor in 1995 for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. "I wasn't allowed to work at Mars, Slippery Rock or Knoch because of my clearances."

Documents that Pond provided to Grove City Area School System, which were shared with the Trib, say Pond "ensures that all security officers working at our Pennsylvania schools possess Pennsylvania child abuse and background clearances in addition to the federal criminal background checks."

"This is something the school districts need to know," said Colamarino, who worked for Pond from January through November 2011. "The company's been going behind school districts' backs. It's unethical, and it's illegal."

Sieber and Holland said the accusations come from disgruntled former employees.

The state's Private Detective Act of 1953, which governs private security firms, prohibits such companies from hiring felons, officials said.

Act 114 requires independent contractors and their employees to obtain required state and federal background reports before allowing them to work in a position in which they will have direct contact with children, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Records show Ramsey pleaded guilty in 1998 to felony criminal trespass and in 2005 to one felony count each of manufacturing and conspiracy to manufacture a controlled substance. Pond hired him in August.

Sieber and Holland said that Kimmell hired Ramsey and that they did not know Ramsey had a criminal background until they reviewed his file in December, shortly after Colamarino resigned under protest over hiring practices.

Ramsey said he told Pond officials of his convictions when they hired him.

Pond hired Claypoole in October 2010.

Sieber said the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office told her in November or December 2010 that hiring Claypoole was not a problem but that placing him inside a school was "legal, but probably not the best idea."

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said his office "had no knowledge of the fact that Claypoole had been briefly employed by Pond Security until ... December 2011," nearly six months after Sieber fired Claypoole for being late to work.

"In further discussions with Pond Security, our office strongly recommended that in the future, individuals with this type of juvenile adjudication not be placed in schools or anywhere else where there would be a strong likelihood of contact with children," Manko said.

Although state law permitted Claypoole to work at the security firm because he registered as required with the state's child abuse registry, he was unable to get the proper state clearances and shouldn't have been working inside schools, said Janet Ginzberg, an employment lawyer for the Philadelphia-based Community Legal Services.

Still, Pond officials scheduled Claypoole to work at Dassa McKinney Elementary School and Moniteau junior and senior high schools in the Moniteau School District in West Sunbury, and at schools in the Grove City Area School System, according to records confirmed by Claypoole and Pond. Moniteau School District officials did not return calls.

Colamarino said he confronted Sieber about the employees with criminal records when he resigned in late November.

"She said that it's her company, and she'll do what she wants," Colamarino said. "I left because of that. I didn't want it to hurt my reputation. I felt I had no other choice but to leave."

Sieber said the conversation led her and Holland to check their employee files, which is how they learned of Ramsey's criminal past. Sieber said she fired Ramsey in early January but has been helping him try to get his record expunged. He is on unemployment and looking for work.

Pond is an affiliate of Germany-based Pond Security Service Gmbh, which was founded in 1983. Pond Security Service LLC was created in 2004, the same year the company opened offices in the United States. It employs about 150 people in Pittsburgh and Virginia Beach.

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