COLUMBIA, SC (WBTW) – In South Carolina, people you trust with access to your home, car or business could be convicted criminals. You may never know, and right now there is no state regulation to protect you.
That has prompted concerns about unlicensed locksmiths, and one Horry County case has highlighted those concerns for years.
Former 15th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Candice Lively is very familiar with that Horry County case that involved a man who was eventually convicted of inappropriately touching an underaged girl. She said the man told the victim he could get into her bedroom because he was a locksmith.
“(He’d say) even if they locked the door that he could always get in,” Lively recalled.
That sex offender is Panteleimon “Peter” Spirakis of Myrtle Beach. Lively handled that case more than ten years ago, and while Spirakis was out on bond he was able to continue his locksmith business.
“I thought, ok there’s got to be some type of regulation or rule that if you’re charged with a sexually violent offense you can’t be a locksmith,” Lively said. “We don’t want him just going around to unknowing people who have children in their home.”
However there was no state regulation about the situation. Even after Spirakis was convicted and eventually released from prison he still had a North Myrtle Beach locksmith business in his name.
At least three times since 2006, state lawmakers had proposed a law to license locksmiths. The law would require background checks and prohibit certain convicted criminals from having a locksmith business.
“If we make sex offenders turn their lights off during Halloween so kids don’t go up and ring the door bell, I think I’d like for a sex offender to not be able to be a locksmith,” Lively said.
News13 has reported on how North Myrtle Beach eventually convinced Spirakis to give up his business because the city threatened to revoke his standard business license on morality grounds because of Spirakis’s child sex crime conviction.
After Spirakis was charged in 2016 for more sex crimes against two other children, former state Sen. Greg Duckworth brought a locksmith licensing bill back up in the statehouse. The locksmith licensing bill got very close to finally passing last year, but it failed again.
Sen. Sandy Senn of Charleston served on the senate committee that considered the bill last year. After it failed to pass, she proposed it again for the current session. Read the full bill here.
“I was shocked to learn that of all the industries that are regulated – and I’m usually against regulation – I mean hairdressers have a stack of regs like this,” Senn said as she held her hands apart to resemble a large stack of papers. “But yet we don’t have any restrictions on locksmiths for them to at least have their crimal backgrounds checked.”
Locksmith Willie Gamble serves on the state’s locksmithing association, and he says professional locksmiths understand the concern. They generally support a way to help them police the industry.
“Any occupation has got to have rules and regulations,” Gamble said outside his shop called Berkeley Locksmith in Ladson. “South Carolina is one of the states where you can actually walk out of prison and become a locksmith the next day.
“Folks put a lot of trust in us. It’s the locksmith creed to be above temptation, but the actual crooks out there could care less about a locksmith creed and trying to protect the public.”
He said Spirakis is just one good case study, but he sees plenty of others who don’t run professional operations – overcharging and lacking insurance, which could leave customers high and dry if there’s a problem.
“Only thing they’re trying to do is get fast money,” Gamble said. “Folks just want to grab the first person who comes on the phone and then they look back and say wow I got ripped off.”
Gamble said he believes licensing would help filter out the bad apples without putting too much of a burdern on the good ones.
He and Lively know change to protect the public still rests in the hands of lawmakers.
“I can’t see how you can justify allowing someone to be completely unmonitored and have that type of business that allows him just private access to people’s homes,” Lively said. “I cannot see why this shouldn’t just be a rubber stamp – we all agree this is a good idea.”
People who support the idea are encouraged to contact South Carolina lawmakers to voice their support for the locksmith licensing bill.
Choosing a locksmith in SC:
Right now the best way to ensure the locksmith you choose is not one with a concerning criminal background, is to do research before you need a locksmith. Decide who you would use before you need the locksmith service.
The Associated Locksmiths of America also has a locksmith finder, but its results are limited to SC members of the locksmith association and also to locksmiths licened in other states.
Locksmiths in North Carolina do have to be licensed
Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.