(Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Corrections) April Ann Swenson-Shaw
Some residents of the Ball Park Apartments in Salt Lake City are on edge after a maintenance worker with access to their homes was discovered to have a long criminal history, including convictions for identity fraud and theft.
Property managers say a criminal background check conducted by an outside company on April Ann Swenson-Shaw, 37, came back clean before she was hired last fall as a live-in maintenance technician at the residential complex at 1380 S. West Temple.
Swenson-Shaw had just been paroled from the Utah State Prison in September. She was arrested in February at the apartment complex and sent back to prison for parole violations, alarming Ball Park residents, many of whom are elderly or disabled.
Petitions are circulating among tenants at the 62-unit complex and at North Temple Flats Apartments, 1999 W. North Temple, where Swenson-Shaw also worked, alleging she was found in possession of personal information from some residents and could have used it to apply for credit cards.
“We’re all kind of up in arms,” said one tenant, who like other residents spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “These are all really vulnerable people. It’s got to be the worst place for something like this to happen.”
Some rents are subsidized at Ball Park and several tenants said they worried about finding similar affordable housing if they were to lose their apartments for complaining publicly about the situation.
“It’s been really stressful,” said another resident who fears her personal information may have been compromised.
Missoula-based Highland Property Management, which manages Ball Park and North Temple Flats, has issued a written apology to residents and is offering them a year of free credit monitoring and to re-key all locks.
“I want each and every one of you to know that we take the safety and security of our valued residents very seriously,” Matt Allen, human resource manager for Highland, wrote in a recent letter to tenants.
Annette Folch, vice president with Highland, told The Tribune that Swenson-Shaw was terminated “on the spot” after the arrest in early February, and managers were able to retrieve all apartment keys and access fobs in her possession and swiftly deactivate her security codes.
Folch said an internal investigation has revealed that Swenson-Shaw could have accessed tenants’ personal information, though it wasn’t part of her job description. No information has surfaced since her arrest to indicate identity theft occurred, she said, and officials with the company continue to cooperate with an ongoing investigation by Salt Lake City police.
Highland Property Management oversees Ball Park and North Temple Flats, with about 168 apartments, on behalf of Summit Housing Group, a holding company which owns the sites. Highland manages another 28 apartment complexes across Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and South Dakota.
On its website, Highland Property Management says it caters to residents ages 55 and over and specializes in managing multifamily residential construction with the help of low-income tax credits, a financing tool commonly used in affordable housing projects.
Folch said property managers have already met with a majority of Ball Park residents in hopes of allaying concerns and that 75% of locks in the complex had been changed. They are continuing to contact tenants, Folch said, particularly those who are less mobile and may not have heard of the incident.
Court documents indicate she faces up to 15 years behind bars, and has convictions for identity fraud, theft, forgery, shoplifting, unlawful use of a financial card, possession of a controlled substance and escaping from official custody.
A spokesman for the state Board of Pardons and Parole said Swenson-Shaw admitted at an April 4 hearing to allegations she had violated her most recent parole by using meth, having drug paraphernalia in her possession and tampering with a drug test.
Her parole was officially revoked the next day, the spokesman said. Records indicate another hearing is set for June, pending the filing of additional criminal charges. Prison records show that Swenson-Shaw has used multiple aliases through the years.
Folch said Highland Property Management hired her in October, based on the report that Swenson-Shaw had no criminal background. The company contracts with an outside firm to perform its pre-employment background checks and drug testing, she said.
“The screening company provided incorrect information to us,” Folch told The Tribune. “If they had done their job to begin with, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Folch and Nathan Lopuch, vice president for Summit Housing, declined to name the third-party company, saying they were continuing to investigate how Swenson-Shaw slipped through the screening.
A spokesman for the Utah Apartment Association said the organization did not offer guidelines or best practices for pre-hire screening of property-management employees. Nor is the subject addressed in Good Landlord training programs currently sponsored by 15 or so Utah cities, he said.
In his letter to residents, Allen, Highland’s human resource manager, wrote that the third-party firm’s initial background report on Swenson-Shaw "was devoid of any arrests, charges or convictions."
When contacted after her February arrest, Allen wrote to residents, the outside company indicated its initial findings on Swenson-Shaw were “the result of human error on their side.” Highland then insisted the contractor double-check all investigations it had performed on other Highland employees, Allen wrote.
The unnamed company, Allen’s letter said, has “since put in place greater safeguards to ensure this does not happen again.”
And until those added protections are proved effective, he wrote, all its background screenings will be double-checked, so “our residents can feel secure in the knowledge that we are screening everyone appropriately."