Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series of stories investigating conditions in Oklahoma’s group homes for the mentally retarded, mentally ill and elderly. The investigation was conducted by reporters from the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman. A convicted felon was cooking lunch when state inspectors walked into the Heartland Plaza kitchen in Duncan in November 2007. “(The administrator) told me if y'all show up, I'm supposed to leave out the back door,” she said. The cook worked there 18 months and was terminated. Two weeks later, she was rehired despite the former administrator's knowledge of the conviction, records show. The felon earlier had also pleaded guilty to grand larceny and petit larceny, two more crimes that would bar her employment. Lorena Afable, who has been the Heartland supervisor for two years, said they are now careful to get a background check on every employee. Heartland was fined $1,722 in November 2008 for violating the state's background check requirement and a new administrator is in place. Heartland's former cook was one of at least 26 cases of failure to complete or review criminal background checks for residential care homes for the mentally ill and elderly since 2006, records show. At Quality Living Residential Care in Bluejacket, criminal checks were not completed on three employees, including the administrator. “I didn't think we needed one,” said the administrator, in a 2006 report. Problems revealed Homes for developmentally disabled, called Intermediate Care Facilities for People with Mental Retardation (ICFMR), have also failed to perform background checks. Country Lane Cottage in Beggs hired two direct-care staff in late 2008, completed the criminal background checks but never reviewed the results, state Health Department reports show. It took nearly a year before health officials discovered the employees were felons. One had been convicted of false impersonation, the other with enabling child sexual abuse. Owner Scott Pilgrim disagreed with the findings, saying one had charges pending and the other involved extenuating circumstances with a family domestic dispute. However, he said the home fired the employees. Pilgrim said some OSBI checks have shown no criminal histories and later found some issues were present. As an added measure, the home has an agreement with the local police department to do background checks in addition to the state check. While OSBI checks are required and cost $35 a piece, some homes contract out for national searches. Home of Hope in Vinita completed a background check on Jerald Ray Bishop, who worked for the home for two years before a resident made claims in 2008 he raped her while she worked at an on-site job. Bishop is awaiting an April 16 preliminary hearing in Craig County to determine whether he will be tried. The OSBI check showed no previous criminal issues, said Home of Hope Chief Executive Officer David Svedman. But after the sexual abuse allegations surfaced, Vinita police discovered a criminal history in California dating back to 1987, including one charge of sex acts involving a child younger than 14, the affidavit states. Bishop had a conviction, served jail time and probation, the affidavit states. The home had an OSBI check on a different applicant come back showing no convictions, but a national search firm found a felony conviction from Oklahoma County. Svedman said the home now uses a national search to complete a more in-depth, comprehensive search. Plus, his employees must undergo random drug testing.