Todd Kohlhepp, the former real estate broker and Realtor who was arrested after a missing South Carolina woman was found in a metal container on his property, has pled guilty to seven counts of murder. By taking a plea deal, Kohlhepp has avoided the death penalty and will instead serve seven consecutive life sentences plus 60 years for sexual assault and kidnapping charges.
Kohlhepp will not have the opportunity for parole or appeal.
Prior to his arrest, the Spartansburg County, South Carolina, resident received positive online reviews from real estate clients and colleagues who were unaware that starting in 1987, he’d served a 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to sexual assault.
Kohlhepp’s case put a spotlight on the process for real estate licensee applications and background checks in the state of South Carolina.
After his 2001 jail release, Kohlhepp received his real estate license from the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s real estate commission on June 30, 2006, about three weeks after he applied, according to the commission’s Communications Director Lesia Kudelka.
At the time, South Carolina didn’t perform background checks to verify an applicant’s criminal history (or the lack thereof).
Kudelka confirmed the application question at the time (2001) read: “Have you ever been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to a crime (other than a minor traffic offense)? Yes_____ No____ . If yes, explain fully on an attachment to this application. Include all pertinent information such as charges, date location and sentences.”
In his application, Kohlhepp briefly mentioned a 1987 charge that stemmed from what he called a “heated argument” between two teenagers.
In light of the Todd Kohlhepp case, South Carolina Rep. Chip Huggins pre-filed the “Todd Kohlhepp Bill” in December, which would require real estate agents to pass a national background check during their initial licensing application, and again every time they renew their license, which is currently every two years.
As of now, the state requires background checks for all initial applicants — and the bill would take that a step further by requiring a background check upon renewal and mandating fingerprint submission by all real estate licensees.
The bill has received legislative approval and is awaiting the signature of Governor Henry McMaster.
President and General Counsel for eXp World Holdings, Russ Cofano, who has 25 years of executive-level experience in technology, association, MLS, brokerage and law previously told Inman: “While I believe all or nearly all states have implemented background/conviction checks at licensure or renewal, how each state treats those is still a patchwork quilt.”