No background checks mean felons at the fair

No background checks mean felons at the fair »Play Video

HILLSBORO, Ore. – Companies that have hired sex offenders in the past are operating at fairs and carnivals in the Portland area.

KATU’s On Your Side Investigators have discovered that fairs and companies they hire are not required by law to run background checks on workers.

Because background checks are not required for fair employees, there are no standards for how those checks should be done. That means even when workers are checked, criminals, including convicted sex offenders, can still slip through the cracks.

There are two main companies hired to run carnival rides and games at fairs in the Portland area. Both have had big problems in Washington.

One of them, Butler Amusements, hired sex offenders two years in a row.

“Extreme Danger”

Adam Cornell, a deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County, Washington, describes a woman named Caitlin Ferry as “an extreme danger to children and the community."

Cornell says officers found Ferry working in the children's area of the Evergreen State Fair just outside Seattle in 2012.

"When we found her in ‘kiddie land’, it was then time to have Ms. Ferry removed from society," said Cornell.

Ferry was awaiting trial for child molestation at the time. Prosecutors say the crime happened before she worked at the fair.

“Extremely graphic depictions of child rape were found," said Cornell, “pictures of Ms. Ferry with a young child in a sexually suggestive way."

Ferry is now serving prison time for her crimes.

KATU’s On Your Side Investigators spoke at length with the CEO of Butler Amusements about what went wrong in the Caitlin Ferry case, and he admitted the company didn't do a background check when it hired her. He said most but not all of his workers at the Evergreen State Fair at the time were checked.

After Ferry was fired, the Evergreen State Fair began requiring Butler to background check all of its employees, while the fair runs checks of its own.

"When someone has a proclivity for sexually assaulting children,” Cornell said, “the very last thing you want is for them to continue to be around children."

But the next year at the Evergreen State Fair, there was another arrest in “kiddie land.”

It was August of 2013 when prosecutors say Dale Fager, known online as "karney37" was arrested while working on a ride called the "ghost ship.”

Fager has a lengthy arrest record, and at the time he faced an outstanding warrant for forgery in Indiana.

He was also the target of a child pornography investigation by Seattle Police. Officers say they had evidence Fager was downloading and sharing hundreds of explicit images and videos of children, and they say he sent several disturbing emails to other pedophiles, including one that said, "I love being a pedophile. I ultimately believe in molestation to the fullest."

Prosecutors say unlike Caitlin Ferry, Fager was background checked, but he passed by using a false name with a false Social Security card to back it up.

They say he worked for Butler from March of 2013 until his arrest five months later. During that time, he worked at fairs up and down the West Coast, possibly including the Clark County Fair, and he told investigators he was at the Washington County Fair last July.

Butler's CEO admits he can't confirm where Fager was working last summer because they don't keep records of where all of their employees are at any given time.

Funtastic Scandal

The other major ride company operating at fairs in the Portland area is called Funtastic.

Last year, it dealt with a scandal of its own when it had to fire three registered sex offenders working at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.

Funtastic says it ran background checks on the employees, but they didn't wait for the results to come back before letting two of them start working. The company also admits it didn't background check all of its workers at the fair, just ones who had the most access to children.

Puyallup Police Captain Scott Engle went on the record at the time to say an average of three to five sex offenders a year are fired from the Washington State Fair for lying on their job applications.

Like Butler Amusements, Funtastic admits there's no standard or overall protocol for protecting fairgoers from criminal carnival workers.

Funtastic says it typically background checks all adult workers at larger fairs, but it doesn't always check every employee at other, smaller events.

New Legislation

Washington state Rep. Liz Pike, of Camas, is one of five state lawmakers KATU contacted to talk about the gaps in the system. KATU’s On Your Side Investigators pointed out to them that neither Washington nor Oregon nor does the federal government require background checks for workers operating rides at fairs and carnivals.

"Thanks for bringing this to my attention,” said Pike.

After talking with KATU, Pike said she and Washington state Sen. Ann Rivers would start working on legislation that would require background checks. They plan to introduce it at the state’s next legislative session in January.

In Oregon, state Rep. Joe Gallegos, of Hillsboro, stopped short of promising to file new legislation. He responded to KATU by email, with the following statement:

"I would need to see the language of the bill to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate, but at first blush, yes. It’s important that we take every reasonable and proactive step to ensure that we are protecting our families and children from those who would do them harm."

Both the Washington County Fair and the Clark County Fair say they require Butler Amusements to run background checks on all of their employees at their events.

Butler admits, however, if it is not asked, it doesn’t run background checks.