The building manager of a foreign-student residence hall for a River Forest-based English immersion program was fired last week after program management was notified he has multiple felony convictions and had served at least two prison sentences since 1993.
An anonymous letter sent to Wednesday Journal Friday accused the school’s parent company, ELS Language Centers of Princeton, N.J., of putting students at risk by not conducting an adequate background check on Lawrence B. Stewart.
Stewart, now 57, was 42 years old when he was convicted of an Oak Park burglary in 1993 and sentenced to five years in prison. He was sentenced to a second prison term for a 1997 burglary. In 1996 he pled guilty to domestic battery in Oak Park and was sentenced to six months in jail and 12 months probation.
As recently as June, 2002, Stewart was arrested for retail theft, for which he received 18 months probation.
As of last Friday, the ELS website gave the phone number of the manager’s residence and directed new students to report there, advising, “ring the buzzer for the on-site manager [who] will assist you in checking into the apartment.”
River Forest ELS program Director Lee Fair, who was informed of Stewart’s history Friday, said he’s been informed by home office officials in New Jersey that Stewart has been terminated and no longer resides at the 417 Thatcher address.
“He’s no longer in the building or working for the [ELS] corporation,” said Fair, who noted he has yet to formally take over responsibility for the residence facility, which is still under renovation and has only one student couple living there.
Officials at Dominican University, which leases space on their campus to ELS, said in a press release Monday that they have had “a positive and mutually beneficial sub-contractual relationship” with ELS Language Centers for over 15 years.
“The ELS program rents office and classroom space at the university’s Priory Campus,” said spokesperson Jessica Mackinnon.
“The university has no students living at the ELS property on Thatcher Avenue,” she added. “We are confident that, based on our past relationship with ELS, the current issue will be resolved quickly and effectively.”