Burlington County Theft Puts Spotlight on School Employee’s Criminal Record

Despite his criminal conviction for theft, Fardarie Mitchell was able to work for the Willingboro, New Jersey School District, first as a security guard, then as a crisis intervention counselor.  He is now alleged to be the thief behind the disappearance of 12 iPads from a Burlington County elementary school. 

A criminal conviction would, ordinarily, have disqualified him from employment, but an old loophole in New Jersey State law allowed him to stay under the school district’s radar.  The law has since been changed, and future employees may not be so lucky.
When he applied for a job as a security guard in 2002, Mitchell was fingerprinted as part of a criminal background check.  He passed and was hired.  State law at the time required that fingerprints be destroyed after a background check.  After 2003, the law permitted fingerprint records to remain on file for use by law enforcement.

In 2010, Mitchell was convicted of third-degree theft.  Because his fingerprints had been destroyed in 2002 under the old law, the New Jersey state police did not find them in their files or notify the school district.

Though Mitchell had held different positions during his career, he never changed school districts, so he was never required to undergo a new background check that might have exposed his 2010 conviction.

For employees with a criminal record, the case is a reminder that arrests and convictions can be discovered years later, particularly now that the loophole that benefited Mitchell has been closed.

One possible solution is expungement.  The New Jersey Criminal Code allows someone arrested or convicted of a crime to apply for removal of a criminal record from law enforcement and court files.  There are some exceptions—certain crimes cannot be expunged, and for some jobs, an applicant must still disclose past encounters with the criminal justice system.

If you are an employee or a job applicant concerned that a criminal conviction, recent or long ago, could prove damaging to your career, expert counsel can advise you on the best way to go forward.  The criminal law attorneys at Sitzler & Sitzler have extensive experience with the New Jersey expungement process and can help you get results.  For a consultation on your matter call (609)267-1101.