How to keep your house key from convicted criminals

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) In South Carolina many professionals must have a license, but that is not the case for locksmiths. So there is no safeguard that ensures each locksmith has a clean background.

Examples of jobs that do require licensing in the state: dentist, barber, manicurist, real estate agent, accountant and boxing ring announcer, just to name a few. If these professionals get in trouble they could have their license suspended or revoked, which means they lose their ability to continue working in that profession.

When it comes to locksmiths, people you expect you can trust, there is no regulation to keep a convicted felon from continuing work in the profession.

Maria Elias-Williams of Loris did not realize there are no locksmith licensing requirements when she recently called one to help her.

"I needed to have [my car] rekeyed," Elias-Williams explained.

Elias-Williams was pleased with the work the locksmith did, and added that he was very professional.

"[He] took about an hour to change the locks and charged me what he said he was going to charge me, and it worked," she confirms.

Elias-Williams used a referral to find a reputable professional. That may seem like an obvious thing to do, but Fred Paxton with the South Carolina Locksmith Association says lots of people do not know anything about the locksmiths they call. Paxton says many customers open their home, vehicle, and business to a locksmith, assuming the company or individual is reputable.

However, sometimes that trust is not warranted.

"The day he's paroled, and the day he walks through that gate as a free man, he can go anywhere he wants to and become a locksmith that day," Paxton said.

And it appears Paxton is right. Across the nation, there are cases of individuals being convicted of crimes while serving as a locksmith.

For example, locksmith Joshua Burlin was convicted of identity theft and making false statements under oath in 2011 in Wisconsin. Investigators said he essentially lied to potential customers by posting online phony addresses for his businesses and posting fake reviews.

Locksmith Todd Morrison was convicted of murder in Los Angeles.

Locksmith David Zimmer is a registered sex offender in New York, and was arrested again just last month for reportedly taking photos of a 9-year-old girl while under order to not have contact with children, as reported by

They were all locksmiths at the time of their crimes, and South Carolina is home to similar locksmith stories, even in the Grand Strand.

Candice Lively, Assistant Solicitor for South Carolina's 15th Judicial Circuit, handled the Peter Spirakis case. He was charged with two cases of lewd act on a minor under the age of 16. Spirakis agreed to a plea that sent him to prison, but now he is out of prison and back in North Myrtle Beach, with a locksmith business still in his name.

"Whenever I learned that he was going to be going into people's homes potentially, I had a huge concern," Lively said.

She said Spirakis used his work as a way to control his victims. She said while investigating the case she learned he took the girls on his jobs and showed them how he could unlock doors.

"Telling [the victims], 'Don't lock your doors. You know I can get in,'" Lively explained. "They've sat there and watched him get into cars and homes for themselves. So they knew there was no way they could keep him out."

So Lively has been hoping for a new law that would require locksmiths to get a professional license - one that could be revoked for violent criminals. Paxton says the Locksmith Association wants change too.

"[We're asking] that there's a background check, that there's a fingerprint card, and we want to make sure that there's nothing to tarnish the image of the locksmith industry in the state of South Carolina," Paxton said.

Since 2006 state representatives have introduced a locksmith licensing law three times. The first two never left committee. The other could also die this year if there is not enough support to bring it up again. Paxton believes that is likely because he says many of the state's lawmakers, including Governor Nikki Haley, oppose more business regulations.

"I respect that. I respect [Gov. Haley's] decision, and I thank her for that," Paxton said. "However, this is not a burden on a small business. This is only registering us who are locksmiths."

The state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR) does not want to take on oversight of locksmith's either.

In a written statement, Austin Smith, LLR's Deputy Director for the Division of Labor, said the right to choose one's profession "cannot be abridged, except where it is clearly necessary for the preservation of the health, safety, and welfare of the public.  In the case of locksmiths, LLR expressed concern that licensure of the trade would not meet this legal threshold.  LLR remains doubtful that state regulation will meaningfully address the perceived problems cited by supporters of licensure..."

Paxton believes the Deputy Director's statement shows a misunderstanding of the problem.

Lively said she understands concerns about more regulations on businesses, but she feels there is a safety and security issue that needs to be addressed.

"When you're inviting someone to come into your home, then that puts it on a different level," Lively said.

So she would support a locksmith license that would only be revoked for violent criminals.

Fifteen other states including North Carolina already require licensing for locksmiths. Paxton vows to keep pushing for change.

"It doesn't need to be placed on the back burner," he said. "This is something the South Carolina Locksmith Association has been after for quite some time."

Paxton said right now it is up to locksmith customers to find reputable locksmiths on their own.

Most locksmiths are trustworthy, and there are a few ways to be sure you find one without the help of a licensing safeguard.

  • Don't wait until you need a locksmith to find one. Research now to figure out who you would choose when the need arises. Ask friends and family for suggestions. It is usually easier to check the background of locksmiths who use their own names in their business name and/or advertising.
  • Find out if the locksmith you are considering belongs to a professional association. You can check with the association to validate if the locksmith is in good standing. Using a locksmith who is bonded and insured provides some protection against criminal negligence by the locksmith.

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