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Prosecutors: Uber background checks missed drivers' criminal records

The San Francisco district attorneysays the "thorough" background check Uber said all drivers go through can be a bit misleading.

The background-check service that ride-hailing company Uber uses to screen potential drivers did not flag the criminal records of 25 drivers who gave thousands of rides to customers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The findings were made public in an amendment to a consumer protection lawsuit filed last year by the district attorneys for Los Angeles and San Francisco. The suit alleges that Uber has misled customers about the safety of the app-based ride service, including how they screen potential drivers.

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In the amended 62-page civil complaint, prosecutors detailed the criminal histories of 25 people who gave rides to passengers in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the last two years.

"I support technological innovation," San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón said in a prepared statement. "Innovation, however, does not give companies a license to mislead consumers about issues affecting their safety."

The Times reported this month that four Uber drivers cited at Los Angeles International Airport had criminal records that would bar them from driving a taxi in Los Angeles. 

Whether ride-hail drivers should be held to the same background-check standards as taxi drivers has been the subject of hours of testimony at Los Angeles City Hall, as lawmakers prepare to vote on a permit process that would allow Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, to pick up passengers at LAX.

Prospective Uber drivers are not required by state law to submit fingerprints as part of their background checks. The company says its background-check service identifies all criminal convictions in the last seven years.

By contrast, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation runs the prints of potential taxi drivers through federal criminal databases.

Uber and Lyft use services that can process screenings within days. They have both argued that using fingerprint checks would be redundant.

In a prepared statement, Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend said that no background check is "100% foolproof." Running fingerprints through state and federal databases can flag the criminal records of people who have been arrested but not convicted, "which can discriminate against minorities," she said.

According to the amended lawsuit complaint, one driver was convicted of second-degree murder in Los Angeles and spent 26 years in prison. He gave a different name when he applied to drive for Uber, and a background report said he had no known aliases and no criminal history, the complaint said. The driver gave 1,168 rides over seven months, according to the prosecutors' court filing.

Using fingerprints and checking federal databases would have identified the man's criminal history, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also said they found three unlicensed drivers who used someone else's account to drive for Uber.

Five drivers had convictions for driving under the influence in the last seven years, the complaint said, and some still drive for Uber. The company has said it bars applicants with convictions for DUI in the preceding seven years.

Several drivers were convicted of fraud, including one driver convicted in 2010 of 29 felony counts of theft, grand theft, filing false or fraudulent real estate deeds, and money laundering, according to the complaint.

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