By now many of you have heard the horrific news from Woodruff, South Carolina about the heinous crimes of real estate agent, Todd Kohlhepp. Kohlhepp, the owner of TKA Real Estate, was arrested last week after authorities found a woman “chained-up like a dog” inside a shipping container. After his arrest, Kohlhepp confessed to killing the woman’s boyfriend. This weekend he also confessed to four murders in the 2003 Superbike Motorsports motorcycle shop shootings in Chesnee. One of the victims in that case was my fellow Dorman High School classmate, Scott Ponder. Police believe that Kohlhepp may have been involved in at least 3 other murders.
Kohlhepp has a long history of violence and sexual assault. He served fourteen years in Arizona prison for kidnapping a 14-year old girl. An accompanying rape charge was dropped for pleading guilt to kidnapping. I will spare you the gory details. WFXG reported that in 1986 a judge wrote:
“At less than the age of 9, this juvenile was impulsive, explosive, and preoccupied with sexual content. He has not changed. He has been unabatedly aggressive to others and destructive of property since nursery school. He destroys his own clothing, personal possessions and pets apparently on whim.
He is extremely self-centered with high levels of anti-social personality functioning, and likely continuing aggressive behaviors toward others in the future.
Twenty-five months of the most intensive and expensive professional intervention, short of God’s, will provide no protection for the public and no rehabilitation of this juvenile by any services or facilities presently available to the Juvenile Court.”
Kohlhepp’s father even said that, “The only emotion Todd seems capable of showing is anger.”
Despite his background, this man who was listed on the South Carolina sex-offender registry since 2012 was allowed by the Real Estate Commission to hold and maintain a license that provided him access to people’s homes, families and children. Countless people in the public came into contact with this person as did numerous real estate agents. As the Post and Courier wrote, “South Carolina officials didn’t seem to notice that someone who made his living venturing into other people’s homes was also a registered sex offender in this state.”
So how did this man get and keep a real estate license in South Carolina? The answer is not that complicated. When Kohlhepp applied for licensing in 2012 applicants were asked to check a box on the licensing form indicating whether or not they had been convicted of a crime. The state thought people who committed crimes would be honest and fully self-report. Interestingly, it has been reported in several news-outlets that Kohlhepp reported his incarceration on his 2012-application but stated that the matter was a simple dispute with an ex-girlfriend. It certainly appears very little investigation was done by South Carolina; if any. It is inconceivable that a person who spent 14 years in state prison for kidnapping a child was allowed to explain away the event without investigation.
In 2014, Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, pushed for a more stringent criminal background check. The new law becomes effective January 2017 and lists sex-related felonies as a disqualifying offense. Sounds great but it does not totally fix the problem. The law does not address the possible criminal background of thousands of real estate agents who already hold a license. If a licensee is added to the sex-offender list after licensure there also does not seem to be a mechanism for discovering their addition.
Questions remain. Why are the existing real estate agents not crossed-checked annually against the sex-offenders lists? How do we safe-guard the public and other real estate agents against someone like Kohlhepp who may already be licensed? We cannot simply wait until another incident to do something. The Real Estate Commission must cross-check the sex-offenders list annually. At license renewal a criminal background check should be performed on every person renewing their license. Otherwise, there is no way to discover a licensee who commits a crime after licensing. Relying on self-reporting clearly is not working and is putting other real estate agents and the public in danger. The safety of our real estate community is at stake.
Photo by Alan Cleaver