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This has been a bad couple of weeks for private investigators.

First, there was the story of Credit Suisse, which hired private investigators to follow a former top executive whom the bank thought was trying to poach employees and clients. But the former executive got into a confrontation with the investigator hired to tail him. The investigator is facing a criminal probe, and the consultant who helped Credit Suisse hire the investigators to trail the executive committed suicide just this week. Now Credit Suisse is reeling from the controversy, saying that the surveillance on the former executive was “wrong,” which ultimately led to the resignation of the COO, who authorized the surveillance.

Next, there was the story of Neil Gerrard, a partner from the white-collar law firm Dechert, who was suing an investigative firm for spying on him after they placed a camouflaged camera on his property to try to gain access to a private Caribbean island where he was vacationing. Operatives were questioned by police after claiming that they were the nephews of the Gerrards. Police found a “large amount of electronic equipment, including a camera adjusted for night vision use” on one operative, who was denied entry to the island; and at least two operatives have been interviewed by British Police.

The investigative firm doing the work, Diligence of London, was allegedly doing work for ENRC, which Gerrard formerly represented. ENRC is being investigated by the UK Serious Fraud Office amid allegations of fraud, bribery and corruption, and is currently involved in litigation against Dechert and Gerrard, accusing them of breach of contract and overcharging for Dechert’s services.

Then yesterday, the Wall Street Journal posted a story about Greg Lindberg, who is facing criminal charges in what has been described as potentially “one of the biggest U.S. life-insurance insolvencies in recent decades.” Lindberg reportedly hired dozens of surveillance operatives to spy on “actual and prospective romantic partners, assembling dossiers on the way.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Lindberg paid for dozens of surveillance operatives to tail the women up to 24 hours a day, taking surreptitious photos and sometimes putting GPS trackers on their vehicles.”

The firm that was doing the work? Apex International, a North Carolina firm that happened to be owned by Lindberg. (Funny how you can’t even find a website for the company.) It is interesting to note that GPS trackers are illegal in Apex’s home state of North Carolina without the permission of the owner of the vehicle.

Lindberg also spied on one woman by having someone secretly enroll in the school she attended, and tracked another woman by having one of his agents rent an apartment across the hall from where she lived to keep tabs on her. Investigators were told that the woman had “agreed to the surveillance,” but suspected that it was not true when one investigator said, “I realized what I was doing was horrible” when “I was putting fear in a woman in a certain situation.”

What can investigators and businesses learn from this?

Think Before You Hire an Investigator

Most of the casework that we do never gets to court, but every time we need to make an ethical or moral decision that may cross the proverbial gray line, I ask myself, “What would a jury of reasonable people think?” If there is even a hint of unscrupulous behavior, I won’t do it. It’s not worth risking my reputation, license or standing in the investigative community, no matter how much money it will make us.

If you are conducting corporate “espionage,” you should be asking, “How is this going to look when I read about it in the Wall Street Journal?”

If you think that placing a surveillance camera on someone’s private property to monitor the comings of goings might not look so good, don’t do it.

If you think that the CEO of a billion-dollar company using company funds to create dossiers on his prospective romantic partners might not result in favorable media coverage, don’t do it.

Or if you think surveillance of a former executive that could result in a confrontation might lead to weeks of bad public relations, don’t do it.

It might seem like overkill, but it might also save you from some serious embarrassment, like ending up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

The More Sensitive, the More Caution

If we get near that proverbial gray area, we typically won’t do the work. But if there is a really touchy case, which is either a sensitive topic (e.g., sexual harassment), politically motivated or dealing with powerful people, we advise you to proceed with extreme caution.

That means following the letter of the law to a T; using the most experienced, trustworthy investigators that you can find; and taking riskier steps only when you have exhausted every other possibility.

If you want to do surveillance on a former executive because you think he might be violating the terms of your agreement, go for it. But don’t skimp by hiring only a few operatives, who might get caught. And at the first sign of any issue, the surveillance should be broken off completely.

If you are going to do surveillance on a partner of a white-collar law firm, it’s probably not a good idea to trespass on private property.

On a personal note, I was personally surveilled by another investigative firm recently. These guys were all over the local Facebook page of my local community, surveilling the wrong house until they found me. And when they finally did find me, they had only one guy trying to follow me.

Spoiler alert! That didn’t end very well for them.

A Little KYC (Know Your Customer) Goes a Long Way

Businesses need to know who they are getting involved with.

Investigo GmbH, who carried out the surveillance for Credit Suisse, has Google reviews ranging from “Very unfriendly staff” and “Only fixated on money” to “Bad experience, not to be recommended, rude and stubborn,” resulting in 1.4 out of five stars.

All that took was a five-second Google search to learn.

Likewise, as an investigator, you need to know who you are working for, their motives, and whether or not they are going to push you into some unscrupulous behavior.

Would I track down an address for an attorney to serve a lawsuit? Absolutely.

But tracking down the lover of my client’s ex-husband in order to “deliver some boxes she left behind”? Nope.

Who You Hire Is a Reflection of You

The three cases I described above have one thing in common: an element of surveillance or on-the-ground work.

It’s clear that, at least in a few of these cases, the investigators were either breaking the law (e.g., going onto private property, attaching GPS trackers to unsuspecting vehicles) or at the very least skirting it in a really gray ethical area. 

It’s clear that there will be a lot of questioning of the judgment of those who hired the investigators.

Rightfully so.

Another Notch in the Belt for Open Source Intelligence

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion of information available to investigators through open source intelligence (OSINT) and public records. With the right training and access, there are millions of points of data available at an investigator’s fingertips, sources ranging from social media, historical domains and deep web research to historic newspapers, litigation filings and credit header information. There is an entire cottage industry of people who only do covert research, which, if done properly, is nearly impossible to detect.

At the end of the day it is hard to dispute the value of making in-person inquiries with friends, families, neighbors and colleagues, former business partners, or local law enforcement. Or doing surveillance.

But those inquiries have risks, namely that it may get back to the target of the investigation. There are, of course, times when only surveillance, interviews and on-the-ground work can get the answers you are looking for.

But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the risk if someone finds out?

I guess you will have to ask Credit Suisse, Greg Lindberg and ENRC.

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“Can you find connections between people and organizations,” is a frequent request in this business. Perhaps it is a corporate officer who is not acting independently. Maybe lucrative contracts are being funneled to a friend or relative. Or certain business dealings seem to favor one organization over another. It may be that you just want to figure out the connection to two people.

Under the surface of a seemingly benign relationship, there are a myriad of possible improper dealings or networks that could contribute to the likelihood of fraud, corruption or other shady activity.

Develop a Profile

Think about your own connections and network. How did you meet the various people in your own life?

There are your relatives and you may have friends from the places where you spent your childhood. You make friends and build your professional and social networks first at school, then through your chosen career field. As we age, we tend to also make contacts through our spouse’s family and networks, as well the families of other kids in our children’s networks.

The best way to uncover connections is to develop an in-depth profile of each of the relevant individuals or companies you suspect may be linked. Look at relatives, friends, social contacts, and professional connections. We have previously discussed how to find current and former employees of companies, but an examination of litigation, critical contracts, customer relationships, and professional organization activity may also provide telling details of corporate relationships.

Sources of Information

Common Institutions – When you think of common institutions, it is common to think about people attending the same college or university. You should also ask whether they attended any other type of training at the same time (e.g. pilot training, professional certification course, internship, medical training, etc.). Federal and State prison records may reveal that they were incarcerated together.

Professional Organizations – Depending on the individuals’ profession, he may belong to a national or local professional group. Look at each individual’s spouse to determine whether there is any overlap in his or her profession, employers, or organization memberships.

Corporate and Regulatory Filings – Corporate records other regulatory filings (e.g. SEC, FINRA, NFA) may show overlap between two individuals or companies. Depending upon the industry, you may also look to other federal and state databases (OSHA actions, federal contractor databases, state attorney general sites, etc.).

Social Media – Social media sites are commonly used to see which individuals are directly linked. It isn’t difficult to look at someone’s “Friends” on Facebook or contacts on LinkedIn. Relative relationships may be easily identified through Facebook’s labeling options.

Social media posts can also provide additional information about individuals’ interests, professional organization memberships, and their education and employment histories. Did he check-in at his fraternity brothers at their alma mater’s homecoming game? Are there photos of her at the charity gala? Perhaps he has posted details of his marathon training with the local running club.

Online and Print Media – Obituaries, marriage announcements, and real estate transfer reports may contain information about relatives and spouses, but also friends. In one case, we were able to support a client’s suspicion of a relationship between two individuals through a decades-old wedding announcement that identified one subject as an usher in the other subject’s wedding.

Local and national media, as well as online blogs, may also report on large deals between companies, employment activities, litigation, and other issues regarding the corporation in question.

Hobbies and Interests – Do you have information that both subjects enjoy similar hobbies? Check out licenses, property ownership records, and UCC filings too. Perhaps they are both pilots or own boat slips in the same marina. Maybe there is a local club or sports team to which they both belong. Do they consistently run the same road races? Perhaps they are training partners or part of a local training group. Sites such as Athlinks.com consolidate race results for a variety of sports.

Philanthropy and Political Donations – Are the two individuals active in the same party or do they contribute to the same campaigns? Check out contribution records on the FEC.gov website. Could they both contribute to the same charities or provide pro bono services at the same organization? Look to annual reports of donors or lists and photos of gala attendees.

Neighborhood and Children – Look to address histories to determine whether the subjects have lived in the same neighborhood or building at any point throughout their lives. You may also be able to determine whether the subjects have children who are similar in age and either attend the same school or participate in similar extracurricular activities.

Property Records – A closer review of address history could help to identify friends and relatives who have also lived at the same location as the subject. However, a closer inspection of property records – specifically the mortgage details and other buyers/sellers in transactions – may provide even further insight into corporate or personal relationships.

Realistic Expectations

There are so many sources to mine for information about connections. However, most of us can say that we have a close friend or professional contact who we met under a strange circumstance that would render it nearly impossible for someone to independently determine the basis of the relationship.

When setting out to identify connections between people or organizations, it is important to have realistic expectations. Despite your best efforts and an exhaustive search, there just may not be an obvious link between your two parties.

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There are many things to consider when a law firm is hiring a private investigator.

Below is a guide to some best practices.

Licensed and Insured

There has been a troubling trend of unlicensed private investigators, so the first thing that a law firm should do is confirm licensing status with the local regulatory body.

In the United States, 43 of the 50 states have statewide licensing requirements for private investigators/private detectives.

As of June 2011, there are no licensing requirements in Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota or Wyoming; Alabama and Alaska have requirements in certain cities.

Prior to commencing an assignment, the law firm should request proof of liability insurance to protect the firm in case something does go wrong.

Communicate Your Needs

It is critical to communicate to the private investigator as much information as possible from the outset, no matter how minute the details may be.

It is also important for the law firm to understand what information is potentially attainable and what may not be, within the confines of the law.

Subject Matter Expertise

The private investigator should have subject matter expertise relating to the situation at hand.

If the investigation calls for surveillance, finding a witnessintelligence gatheringdue diligence investigationcomprehensive background investigationasset investigation or an expert witness background investigation, a private investigator should be able to provide the law firm with examples of previous work done on similar matters.

Establish a Budget and Deliverables

The private investigator should prepare a descriptive agenda of your objectives and what efforts the investigative firm will make to accomplish those goals.

The investigation should be conducted in stages, with deliverables provided upon completion of each stage, so the law firm can have a measuring stick to gauge the progress of the assignment.

Engagement Letter

Included in the engagement letter should be an indemnity agreement in case the private investigator engages in professional misconduct or violates the law.

Additionally, the scope of the work, the agreed-upon budget, any agreed-upon retainer agreement and a termination clause should be included in the engagement letter.

Documentation of the parameters in an engagement letter can alleviate future disputes over objectives, timing and fees.

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Sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date with what Hal Humphreys, from Pursuit Magazine, believes to be one of the absolute best blogs in the investigative industry!

In high stakes litigation, an expert witness background investigation may uncover information that could potentially discredit the expert witness and ultimately lead to a favorable outcome.

Pretrial discovery provided you with the opposing expert’s CV and details about his compensation for testimony. You may have Googled the expert witness or pulled up a few of his articles on Google Scholar. But what does this really tell you about your adversary’s expert? What do you truly know about your own expert, for that matter?

It’s easy for anyone to do some basic searches and get a “snapshot” of the expert that will be on the stand. It’s even easier to rely on the information provided by the expert. But what are you missing? Unless you find a glaring discrepancy or a front page scandal, basic research won’t provide you with the ammunition to discredit or disqualify your adversary’s expert.

In a comprehensive expert witness background investigation, an experienced investigator can dig deeper into the background of an opposing expert witness to help you on cross examination. In high stakes litigation, you should assume that your opponent is doing the same thing – what will they find? Investigating your own expert may prevent potential problems at trial and you will be better able to anticipate the other side’s attack.

Below are some areas that could be uncovered in a expert witness background investigation that could potentially discredit the witness:

The CV

Verifying the veracity of the information in the expert witness’s CV is a good, basic starting point. It is critical to know that the information contained in the CV is complete and accurate.  In addition to verifying “directory information” of former affiliations, organizations and educational institutions, investigators can also speak with former colleagues or associates, learning additional details about the expert.

Affiliations and Conflicts of Interest

In the past, attorneys have tried to obtain information about experts’ affiliations and monetary arrangements through discovery. As judges begin to limit the scope of discovery motions this tool may not always yield useful information. Having an investigator dig into an expert’s affiliations (e.g., organizations, educational institutions, employers, business partners etc.) may reveal conflicts of interests or other information useful for discrediting the witness.

Prior Statements

Pulling testimony in cases is time consuming, and frequently requires personnel to go to the court in question, but it can be a goldmine of information. Contradictory testimony in prior cases is, of course, a fantastic way to discredit a witness. Attorneys should also consider using other statements by the expert made in the media, scholarly articles, and other sources.

Past Acts

In the past year there have been notable examples of discredited experts throughout the United States and the world. Prior criminal records and a history of work issues have come to light both in the United Kingdom and in the San Francisco forensic crime lab. Currently, a scandal is unfolding in Florida, where psychologist George Rekers’ testimony in numerous parental rights cases, is being called into question. Rekers’ paid testimony for the state attorney general’s office is being scrutinized.

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A risky and growing trend in the legal arena is the use of in-house paralegals or support staff as an alternative to hiring a trained legal investigator. Although this is understandable, particularly given the cost-effectiveness and convenience of in-house resources, there is no substitute for a professionally trained legal investigator. It takes much more than just an inquisitive mind and Internet savvy to consider oneself an “investigator.” Before assigning investigations to in-house researchers, attorneys should be asking themselves, “How important is getting this information?” and “What if the other side finds out something I did not know about?”  A trained legal investigator can identify facts to assist an attorney or law firm achieve a desired result for a client.

Who Needs a Legal Investigator Anyway?

Attorneys and support staff are becoming increasingly adept at using publicly-available search engines (i.e. Google) and accessing third-party resources such as Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. These resources are, of course, also commonly utilized by professional private investigation firms. What attorneys may not realize is that every Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw subscription may contain records from different databases. The research databases in a licensed private investigator’s subscription may contain millions of records and publications that are not available to private law firms. Because of federal and state privacy restrictions, these data brokers will generally provide attorney clients with only limited access to public records. Attorneys should consider what information they may be missing by only using their in-house resources. 

Cost Effectiveness v. Cost Efficiency

In an age of shrinking budgets and increased scrutiny of client costs, it is understandable that many attorneys will first look to internal resources and research. However, no amount of Internet savvy will help a paralegal or researcher whose sphere of information is limited by the databases available to him or her. An attorney who uses in-house personnel is at risk of missing critical information that could cost the case, the client, or both.

Where Can Professional Investigator help?

Though it may not be necessary to assign every investigative task to a professional, it could be beneficial to consult an investigator for additional recommendations regarding your case. Certain investigators are immensely skilled at locating a subject for a difficult process service, identifying and interviewing witnesses with critical first-hand knowledge, locating personal assets of an individual or business entity or conducting a thorough background investigation on an expert witness.

Conclusion

A legal investigator is trained to pursue information and facts so that an attorney can intelligently proceed in the best interest of their client. In high-stakes litigation, you may be doing your client a disservice by not retaining the services of a professional. While it may be more cost effective to utilize in-house capacity, it is strongly advised to reconsider cutting corners when it comes to gathering information and case intelligence.

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An attorney may think that they do not have any need for an experienced private investigator because of the variety of skills and resources that they employ.  But have you ever found yourself staring at a computer screen and asking:

I know the answer is out there…Where do we go from here?

Although law school and career experience provide an attorney with a number of useful research techniques and litigation skill, they do have limits.

Consulting with a professional private investigator can help attorney’s to leverage your position and find creative and efficient ways to come out ahead of your adversary.

Here are 10 ways that an attorney can use a professional private investigator:

1 Locate People
It may be a witness or an heir. Perhaps it’s a former employee who can shed light on corporate misconduct. Or maybe you need to locate a witness in possession of the proverbial “smoking gun.” Whether you would like to interview, serve, or investigate someone, an investigator can help you to identify and locate the individual.

2 Locate Assets
Investigators are skilled at locating assets such as real estate, valuable property (artwork, antiques, collectibles, etc.), and vehicles (motor vehicles, aircraft, vessels, etc.). An investigator can also help attorneys to identify the location both domestic and offshore bank accounts (though the details of these assets may not necessarily be disclosed by banking institutions without court order or permission from the account holder – see our post 5 Myths: What a Private Investigator Cannot (Legally) Get.

3 Leverage for Negotiations
An investigator can pull together key sources and intelligence to inform your side during litigation, an M &A deal, internal investigation, or any other adversarial situation that can make the difference between a favorable settlement.

4 Enforce Judgments
A judgment is only useful if you are able to enforce it. An investigator can help attorneys to identify current assets and any efforts to hide or misrepresent them through the transfer to family members, friends or other parties.

5 Connect the Dots
Investigators can help you to know who is actually sitting on the other side of the table during litigation or a potential business deal. You can gain immeasurable negotiation power by identifying who is actually behind a faceless corporation or tying together undisclosed connections.

6 Predict Your Opponent’s Next Move
Through an investigation, you can learn your opponent’s history and patterns of behaviors so as to best predict how they will react under pressure. This will help you to be successful in litigation strategizing, during cross examination, or at the deal table.

7 Prep For Cross Examination
During preparation for a deposition or courtroom testimony, an investigator’s report detailing your witnesses’ weaknesses, background, and behavioral tendencies may be one of your most valuable tools. This can also be useful in identifying information against your client, so you can be prepared for what may come up during the course of the litigation.

8 Collect and review electronic evidence
Whether it is an adversarial matter or an internal investigation, investigators may be used to efficiently recover electronic files – including those that a subject believes he or she has successfully deleted. Investigators are frequently used to identify and analyze a subject’s emails, documents, or other files.

9 Trademark and Intellectual Property Monitoring
Investigators can be used to successfully police a company’s products throughout the world. Counterfeiting and improper diversion of products onto the grey market are just two of the most common areas where an investigator can provide intelligence and assistance.

10 Reconstruction
A historical reconstruction may be helpful in a number of different areas. Perhaps you need to review the history of a family to locate heirs. It could be a corporate history or a chain of title issue in a real estate matter. Whatever the issue, an investigator can help to identify and piece together long lost documents, facts and witnesses.

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