California Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham has requested a state inquiry into Uber’s background check program, after a driver was charged with sexually assaulting at least four intoxicated women, ages 19 to 22, and allegedly stole belongings from their homes.
Cunningham’s letter to the California Public Utilities Commission also requests that commission President Michael Picker answer three questions:
▪ How do you determine how often (ride-sharing companies such as Uber or Lyft) are performing background checks on drivers?
▪ Does the CPUC require an audit or database tracking of (ride-share) drivers to confirm they have passed background checks?
▪ Are there any other measures the CPUC takes to ensure (ride-sharing companies) are following the laws and regulations governing driver background checks?
The letter comes a day after San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow announced that the suspect, Alfonso Alarcon-Nunez, 39, is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who was voluntarily deported from New Mexico in 2005.
The CPUC implemented stronger background checks of drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft, including mandatory accreditation by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, according to a Nov. 13, 2017, statement.
Alarcon-Nunez has a 2015 California driver’s license, but it’s unclear when he re-entered the country. Dow declined to say whether Alarcon-Nunez has any prior criminal convictions.
The suspect in the sexual assaults responded to other drivers’ calls to parties, and then would pick up the passenger before the actual driver arrived, police said. Alarcon-Nunez allegedly then would use pseudonyms and the payment app Venmo to avoid detection by law enforcement.
“The circumstances of this case and the alleged conduct of Mr. Alarcon-Nunez give rise to serious concerns on the part of my constituents. (Ride-sharing companies) are very active on the Central Coast, especially with younger members of the community and with college students,” wrote Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo.
Three of the alleged victims attend Cal Poly; the fourth attends Cuesta College.
Uber’s website states that “potential drivers must provide detailed information, including their full name, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number, a copy of their driver’s license, vehicle registration, insurance, and proof of a completed vehicle inspection. Individuals who pass the driving history screen then undergo a national, state, and local-level criminal history check that screens a series of national, state, and local databases. ...”
A spokesman for Uber told The Tribune that drivers are prohibited from accepting cash or payments from third-party apps. The company says it is cooperating in the criminal investigation against Alarcon-Nunez.
The San Luis Obispo case is not the first in which an Uber driver is accused of sexual assault.
In 2016, an Uber driver named Nimer Abdallah was accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman in a case similar to Alarcon-Nunez’s.