In the wake of local locksmith and convicted sex offender, Panteleimon “Peter” Spirakis' most recent arrest, some locksmiths along the Grand Strand point to a need for legislation that regulates the industry in South Carolina.
“If there isn’t a law, there needs to be,” Michelle Evans one of Spirakis’ former customers said.
Evans, a Myrtle Beach resident for more than 20 years, wanted to have her home rekeyed after going through a divorce and called Phil’s Lock and Key, who she had used before under the previous owner.
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Spirakis is the owner of Phil’s Lock and Key on U.S. 17 in North Myrtle Beach where he worked as a locksmith since 2002. He is also a registered sex offender, twice-convicted for sex crimes involving young teens in 2005 and 2008, records show. Evans said she was unaware of his past.
Spirakis is now jailed at J. Reuben Long Detention Center after he was arrested March 3, along with three other suspects, and charged with sex crimes against two 4-year-old children. His business license was suspended March 18 and may be revoked pending a hearing set for Wednesday if he doesn’t opt to voluntarily close and return his business license to the city.
If there isn’t a law, there needs to be.
Michelle Evans, former customer of Phil’s Lock and Key said.
Spirakis showed up to rekey Evans home one Saturday about a month before his most recent arrest.
Her 3-year-old daughter ran around in her pajamas as he worked, intrigued by the new person in her home, and asked him questions about what he was doing. She said Spirakis made comments about how cute she was then told Evans it would be a shame for someone to come in and take her beautiful daughter after Evans told him why she wanted her home rekeyed, she said.
“I felt sick to my stomach in thinking this man has seen my daughter in her PJs and the comments he made,” she said after she learned of his arrest and past conviction.
She recognized Spirakis’ face in the media following his arrest and said something should be done by lawmakers to prevent convicted criminals from being able to operate as locksmiths.
“I had taken active steps in a non-high risk situation to have my locks changed for peace of mind and safety and the very people I called to help me feel safe may now pose a risk to my home, and I’m more worried now,” she said.
Nick Allen, owner of Affordable Lock and Key agrees that regulations are needed, and he rekeyed Evans home for free after she told him Spirakis changed her locks before his arrest.
Allen said for years locksmiths have pushed for state regulations in the industry, but nothing’s been done.
“We really just want background checks and a state license so that convicted felons can’t just come in and be locksmiths,” he said.
A tremendous amount of trust is placed on locksmiths and more should be done to ensure those who are trustworthy are operating in the community, Pete Bourey, locksmith with Eastway Lock and Key in Myrtle Beach, said.
There needs to be background checks. We are trusted with a lot, and I think a background check would weed out some of these guys with felonies.
Pete Bourey, locksmith at Eastway Lock and Key said.
“There needs to be background checks. We are trusted with a lot, and I think a background check would weed out some of these guys with felonies,” Bourey said.
He pointed out that North Carolina and other states have mandatory licensing for the locksmith industry, but South Carolina doesn’t.
Bourey’s not big on government regulations, but is big on the integrity of his trade, which he feels is at stake if some government regulations aren’t put in place that at least require a background check for locksmiths.
“If you’re not trustworthy, there’s just no telling what could happen,” he said.
Ronnie Armeen, owner of Eastway Lock and Key, who also operates a store in the Charlotte, N.C., area, noted the difference between being a locksmith in the two states.
“If you have a couple of DUIs or something in North Carolina you won’t have a locksmith license. There’s no room for tolerance, but down here there’s no licensing, no regulations, and anyone who wants to be a locksmith has an open door,” he said.
Only about 15 out of all 50 states requires licensing for locksmiths, Jeff Owens, president of the South Carolina Locksmith Association, said.
North Carolina does have the requirement, but doesn’t heavily enforce the rules on it, and is close to dissolving mandatory locksmith licensing, he said.
Members at the S.C. Locksmith Association have tried for years to get regulations put in place in South Carolina, and have seen legislation shot down by state lawmakers, with the most recent attempt being about five years ago.
It typically gets shot down over funding, he said, because starting up those regulations would take money and budgeting.
“Unfortunately, this is my opinion and I hope it never happens, so in a sense I hope we never get licensing, but unfortunately I think it will take something really, really bad happening,” he said.
He worries that if licensing is dissolved in North Carolina that it will hurt South Carolina’s chances of getting the mandatory licensing that many think is needed.
“I think it will take a certain number of people crying loud at one time to be heard,” he said.
Owens’ group may try again for legislation on the matter once the presidential race is settled, he said.
The state’s General Assembly makes the determination to regulate a profession and bills had been proposed to the assembly in 2006, and again in 2011, according to officials with Labor Licensing Regulation department.
I think it will take a certain number of people crying loud at one time to be heard.
Jeff Owens, president of South Carolina Locksmith Association said.
Kim Mertens, who owns All About Locks in Carolina Forest with her husband Don, along with about five other locksmiths in the area, are in the beginning stages of forming a new locksmith association that will work toward stamping out fraudulent, fly-by-night businesses and criminal operators, along with trying to get legislation passed on state licensing.
“Somebody who does my nails has a license. Somebody who does my hair has a license, but my husband works on units every day without one because he doesn’t need to have one,” she said.
Mertens and other area locksmiths warned the public should be wary of not only locksmiths who may be operating and are also convicted criminals, but also of fraudulent businesses commonly known as “scammers” who put up advertisements with false addresses and quote low numbers to come out, but then charge hundreds for their work once they are done.
“We need to be registered with the state,” Brandon Huston, owner of Grand Strand Lock and Key, said.
Huston and others in the trade want background checks and regulations, but also fear that heavy taxes could come along with it that cripple their income and said fees should be kept at reasonable rates along with actually being enforced.
He has seen a flurry of concerned former customers of Spirakis’ in the past few weeks and said those worried about a former locksmith or someone with lock-picking skills getting in, need a high security lock in place, which can be purchased at home hardware stores. He also said customers could have advanced locks put in that only the installing locksmith would have the ability to get into.
A woman who answered the phone at Phil’s Lock and Key directed all questions to the store’s lawyer, George Spirakis.
George Spirakis declined to comment on the upcoming hearing and other questions about Peter Spirakis’ recent charges.
Phil’s Lock and Key appeared to be closed Thursday afternoon. A customer seeking the store’s services stopped by and said he had seen Spirakis’ picture in the media, but didn’t know what the story was about.
Glenn Ikens said he has been using Phil’s Lock and Key for about 10 or 12 years and didn’t know about Spirakis’ past convictions.
“I’ve always been satisfied with them [Phil’s Lock and Key], but I’m really amazed by this story. This is not very good,” Ikens said.
Safety tips for choosing a locksmith
▪ Choose a credible locksmith to use before an emergency situation.
▪ Do a quick Internet search on the company you're considering and look at other customer comments.
▪ Check with South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs to find out if there are complaints against the company you're considering.
▪ Make sure you get a ballpark figure over the phone of the entire job, not just the fee to come out for service.
▪ Contact the S.C. Locksmith Association or other credible association for a recommendation.
▪ Use a phone book with an actual locksmith advertisement.
▪ Pay with a credit card instead of check or cash because credit card companies offer better fraud protection, and a locksmith asking for cash only is typically a red flag.