Central Ny Firm Violated Criminal Background Check Law

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a settlement of a lawsuit against a Central New York company that failed to conduct mandatory criminal background checks on employees who provided companion care in the homes of aged and infirm clients.

In at least two cases the company hired workers with criminal histories, one of whom later stole the credit card of an elderly woman placed in her care. The same worker is also alleged to have stolen an expensive ring belonging to another client in her care.

"Seniors are among our most vulnerable citizens and it is imperative that they are treated honestly and cared for with respect and dignity," said Attorney General Spitzer. "This agreement ensures that this company will now follow the law aimed at protecting seniors from criminal activity that may endanger their health, safety and finances."

The settlement, which follows a two year investigation by the Attorney General's Syracuse Regional Office, requires VIP Companion-Care to:

  • Immediately conduct criminal background checks of its employees;
  • modify its advertising practices and reform its billing procedures;
  • pay for an independent audit of its billing practices for the year 2001 to resolve a finding by the Attorney General's Office that the company over-billed its clients and to repay any overcharges confirmed by the audit; and,
  • make an immediate payment of nearly $18,000 in restitution, fines and penalties.

VIP operates from offices at 753 James St. in Syracuse and 14 Fennell St. in Skaneateles. At any one time the company has 30-45 companion care employees.

A 1991 Onondaga County law requires providers of companion care services to obtain the results of criminal background checks and identification cards for prospective employees from the County Sheriff's Department. It also requires employees to submit to fingerprinting by the Sheriff's Department. The Attorney General's investigation revealed not only that VIP failed to comply with the law, but that at least one of its employees, a convicted felon, was arrested for stealing the credit card of an elderly woman under her care and is alleged to have stolen the ring of another VIP client. The agreement provides $1,700 in restitution for the ring.

Under the terms of the settlement, VIP has agreed that it will not engage in other deceptive practices, including billing irregularities, objectionable contract language and false advertising. The settlement also requires that VIP comply with New York's Door to Door Sales Protection Act, which requires that consumers be provided with notice of their right to cancel a contract within three business days.

Companion care services offered by VIP include "live-in companions" and adult sitters who provide companionship services, respite care for care givers, transportation and errands, medical reminders, meal preparation and light housekeeping.

Individuals with questions about this case are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755. Attached are some questions consumers should ask before contracting with a companion care service.

The case has been handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin and Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge Winthrop Thurlow of the Attorney General's Syracuse Regional Office.

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