Houston's background check for cabbies allows ex-cons behind the wheel

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Our verdict: The process lets ex-cons behind the wheel and doesn't allow passengers to know the criminal records of drivers (KTRK)

The smartphone-based ride-sharing service Uber has been in the news lately, and the news hasn't been good.

An Uber driver was charged for sexually abusing a passenger he took to his home. Duncan Burton was arrested April 1 in the alleged January attack.

The incident has been front and center in Austin, where a debate is brewing at the legislature over how to regulate the new, smartphone-driven companies like Uber and background their drivers.

City officials say the assault is proof that Uber's background check is not as thorough as the one required by Houston regulators.

Let's go back to a report we did last year on the background checks the city requires for cabbies and Uber drivers.

Duncan had a criminal history. City officials say Duncan would have been flagged if he went through Houston's background check system if he had sought a permit as required.

Our reporting shows that Duncan going through the city's background check might not have denied him a license to drive you around.

While Uber's background check process may not be perfect, our report last year showed the city of Houston's background check leaves much to be desired.

It's not that city officials didn't know about the criminal backgrounds of cabbies driving city streets. It's that they do know -- and let them drive anyway.

Hundreds of Houston cabbies are driving despite prior criminal convictions including drunk driving, driving without a license, drug dealing, and domestic violence, Ted Oberg Investigates found in May.

The city also keeps that information hidden from the public. The records detailing the criminal backgrounds of those applying for cabbie licenses have never been seen outside the back rooms of city government. The secret records were only given to ABC-13 because of a city bureaucrat's mistake. We've made another request today and we're hoping the city will decide to be more transparent.

We think this, too, should be an important part of the debate raging in Austin.

Watch the report, and take a look at a sample of who is driving you in cabs even after a city-approved background check:
  • A man who had a conviction for driving while intoxicated where he pleaded guilty and spent several months in immigration detention.

  • A man who was convicted for conspiracy to manufacture/deliver controlled substance. He had purchased steroids from a seller who was working for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He received a deferred sentence.

  • A man who was initially convicted for while driving a cab agreeing to buy drugs for a passenger. The person he bought the drugs from was an undercover police officer, records show. While on probation for that case, he was accused of stabbing his wife with a screwdriver, an act he pleaded guilty to in 2004.

  • A man who was convicted for smuggling illegal aliens.

  • A man who was convicted for shoplifting at a local mall. Records show that while working as an installation technician in another industry, he would also use customers credit cards without their permission.

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Ted Oberg Investigates
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