McDonald's Beefs Up Policies to Keep Out Predators
(Story created: 5/18/06)
It's the home of Ronald McDonald and Happy Meals. Now, McDonald's says it's beefing up its hiring policies to keep sexual predators out of its restaurants. This follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation that captured national attention.
And it comes just as our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams discovered an astonishing number of sex offenders who may have worked under the golden arches right here in Tennessee.
Click here to read the first statement from McDonald's corporate office about the allegations in this story. Click here to read a statement from a Tennessee McDonald's franchise owner regarding the incident that occurred in Franklin.
The federal government has sued McDonald’s franchises in Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico for failing to protect teens from sex harassment and assault. Click a state to read more about these cases.
But when he'd served out his sentence and the parole board could no longer hold him, Saunders traded his life under the barbed wire for a life under the golden arches.
"I was concerned about the little children," says former McDonald's worker Jeraldine Coppage.
Coppage worked with Saunders at the McDonald's on Franklin Road in Nashville. She even dated him before she found out about his past.
In 1987, Saunders pleaded guilty to multiple counts of aggravated rape, aggravated sexual battery and use of a minor for obscene purposes.
The case involved multiple victims, the youngest just six years old.
The court ordered that Saunders be locked up in prison and, even after he was released in 2002, he was supposed to face another 10 years probation with "no unsupervised contact with children."
"Every night he was with young children," Coppage tells Williams. "He worked as the manager so he managed the young children. There was a lot of teenagers working under him."
"At night?" Williams asks.
"Yes, at night."
Last November, Saunders was busted again -- this time for failing to register as a sex offender.
He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Within day of his release, court records show he was back to work at McDonald's -- this time on Murfreesboro Road, again as a manager.
"I called the corporate headquarters to let them know that they had a child molester working for them," Coppage says.
"And the reaction was?" Williams asks.
"They were supposed to do a background check on it."
Victims rights advocate Verna Wyatt says:
"I cannot imagine you'd put somebody with this kind of history into that kind of setting. You're asking for trouble."
A spokesman for McDonald's says the corporation checked Saunders' record, and it came back clean.
But he may not be alone.
Our investigation discovered 36 offenders who, in their most recent reports to the state's sex offender registry, told the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that they work at McDonald's.
The TBI says at least 10 others listed McDonald's as their employer sometime in the past.
A TBI spokesperson says state law does not allow the agency to release the names of the sex offenders who have worked at McDonald's.
But the crimes include: rape, aggravated sexual battery, use of a minor for obscene purposes and attempted rape of a child.
"I'd say, 'wake up McDonald's,'" Wyatt says. "Why do you think there are 46 sex offenders working in your establishments? Because they can -- and they can be around children."
A McDonald's spokesman says the company disputes the TBI's numbers, saying that many of those that the company could identify have now been terminated or left.
But one of those former employees is Nicholas Aloyo who, our investigation discovered, had a long history of sexual misconduct involving children as young as 10.
"They would allow Nicholas to be the one to be out in the lobby with the kids, set up the little bowling alley for the kids, sing on karaoke with the kids," says former McDonald's supervisor Scott Smyers.
In Eddie Saunders' case, he filled out an application like one that we found that asks if the applicant has been convicted of a crime during the past 5 years. (The application that Saunders actually filled out may have asked about convictions with seven years.)
Since he had been in prison for 15 years, he could check 'no' -- and it wouldn't be a lie.
Now, as a result of our investigation, McDonald's is asking if applicants have ever been listed on any sex offender registry.
"A sex offender could check 'no,' Wyatt says. "How are they going to know if they don't do a criminal background check."
She says the Saunders case illustrates the need for McDonald's to commit to high-quality background checks that won't miss high-risk offenders with a history of sexually abusing children.
"They want to work around children," she adds. "They want to be where their victims are. They want to be where they can fantasize about children. That's the way they are made."
As for Saunders, he's no longer employed at McDonald's.
He told us he's done his time -- and we should just leave him alone.
Verna Wyatt says that's fine, as long as he does what he is supposed to do.
"There are certain occupations this person can never be," she adds. "A sex offender cannot be around children."
In addition to changing their application, McDonald's corporation says it will now:
Conduct background checks on all restaurant managers.
Check state sex offender registries on all other new hires -- and encourage its franchisees to do the same.
And check its current employees to see if any of them have a history of child molestation or any other sex offense.
The policy doesn't prohibit the franchisees from hiring child molesters or other sex offenders.
But the company says this issue now has the company's full attention.
The company's statement, in part, reads:
"McDonald's USA and our franchisees are absolutely committed to the safety and well-being of our customers and employees."