I need to help find a private eye (and don't know how)
May 29, 2008 5:41 PM   Subscribe

How Does one go about finding a really top notch Private Investigator?

This is for a friend who is going through a really dirty and horrifying divorce.

The fact that my friend has been pretty psychologically beaten up means that it's imperative that he/she find someone who's very honest and professional. Any screwy/hacky stuff would lead to personal and financial ruin.

So, are there any specific questions to ask potential investigators? Any accreditation to ask about? Is it normal to ask for references?

I would really appreciate any help, advice or personal experience.

(see tags for some of what needs investigation)
posted by snsranch to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would start with your friend's lawyer. It's likely they have a range of contacts in their rolodex already.
posted by dhartung at 5:50 PM on May 29, 2008

I did a little bit of private investigator but am no expert on selection. Just be aware that most private investigators don't work anything like they do on tv, most of them do things like watch a door eight hours straight from a car and some have no training other than working as a security guard for a while, and other operatives are selected just because they"look normal".

Without knowing the details of the investigation you want to do, or any laws in your area (something like fraud, I get that part) ; I will say that this -- most divorces, in most places are "no fault divorces" so whatever the spouse did/didn't do in terms of shady activity will have very little impact on the outcome of the divorce settlement. Be warned that judges have very low tolerance for game-playing and won't get dragged into some sideline drama.

If you want a crime investigated, just go to the cops. If it is fraud, tip off the bank/post office/insurance company/etc - these organizations have departments that deal with this kind of thing as a matter of routine (keep in mind too, sometimes they won't be interested). If you want justice fine - engage the professionals, but quite often regular people don't have the resources to finance/carry out this kind of work on their own and it ruins them -- quite honestly, many people who independently engage PI's are not in the right frame of mind. Be very careful and make the decision unclouded by emotion, fear etc..
posted by Deep Dish at 6:06 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is for a friend who is going through a really dirty and horrifying divorce.

So she must have an attorney.

The fact that my friend has been pretty psychologically beaten up means that it's imperative that he/she find someone who's very honest and professional.

If she has an attorney, then you really need to stay out of it. You could cause irreparable harm to her case by meddling in a situation that should be handled --- in its entirety --- by your friend and her attorney. Your role, I think, is to be a supportive friend, but it could be absolutely disastrous for your friend's legal case if you start meddling in decisions that are left to your friend's attorney in consultation with your friend.

No decent attorney would send a client out to find a private investigator themselves.
posted by jayder at 6:27 PM on May 29, 2008

dhartung, yea, that was my first thought and he/she is checking into that.

Deep Dish, you're totally right about letting the police do their job. I totally agree.

This idea about the P.I. was presented to me with the thought that events well documented by a professional might counter any wild/false claims made by the other party.

My understanding, as Deep Dish mentions, is that the courts don't like any game-playing.

So if the "other party" is doing things that are clearly illegal, for the purpose of destroying my friend and his/her credibility, it is much more important to have a Police record of the events rather than those of a P.I.

(forgive me for typing out loud, but this has been very, very helpful!)
posted by snsranch at 6:33 PM on May 29, 2008

If you contact me via MeFi mail, I can provide the info for a reputable investigator in the LA area. He is not cheap but is very good.
posted by charlesv at 6:55 PM on May 29, 2008

If you hit a dead end MeFail me and I'll talk to a guy I know in Philly to see if he has any contacts out there.
posted by The Straightener at 7:12 PM on May 29, 2008

I really don't want to get into the details of your friends' issue, but I'll extend my general advice a little further.

First, the best person for your friend to listen to/consult is the lawyer - the lawyer will know a lot about how to follow up on things like shady transfers of assets and when things like slander have become involved. The lawyer will have professional obligations to your friend, and nobody else in the process will. Have your friend listen to the lawyer, and supply the lawyer with whatever information and follow up the lawyer asks for to help his/her case. Don't lie to the lawyer or withhold important information or documents. Again the lawyer is the only person obligated to help your friend.

If on the advice of a lawyer this situation comes down to a police or PI investigation consider the following:

The real advantage of engaging either the police or a PI in this scenario is their ability to generate proper reports (really that is it). A private investigator will generally be able to provide information they gathered or observed personally and research the type of public information which is available to anyone -- they generally won't have (legal) access to any police information or be able to extract information from any third-party individuals or organizations (again, unless its public). Keep in mind, that a PI is a private citizen and needs to conform to privacy laws. The police officer will be able to talk to witnesses, and observe people just like the PI - but will also have access to all kinds of police databases, be able to get warrants issued, detain people, talk an entire network of other officers, access laboratories, store/track evidence properly, and possibly make use of a pool of tax-payer supplied equipment. Considering these factors, who is more likely to make a better report for the judge?

There are bad judges, cops and lawyers; I can't deny that sometimes bad things happen to good people but overall the judges, police and lawyers are in a much better position to consider what really constitutes fraud, slander, abuse, and wild/false claims than your friend, or anyone with emotional involvement in this situation.
posted by Deep Dish at 7:34 PM on May 29, 2008

Wow, this was a very tough one, and I can't thank you guys enough.

I have advised my friend to not do ANYTHING without consulting his/her lawyer. It took a while but he/she understands the importance and is going to follow through with that.

This was tough because my friend really felt that no justice could be done here, that the "ex" was committing serious crimes and that the lawyer was not a strong enough advocate.

Thanks again, folks, you're the best!
posted by snsranch at 8:18 PM on May 29, 2008

"my friend really felt that no justice could be done here, that the "ex" was committing serious crimes and that the lawyer was not a strong enough advocate."

If your friend is not confident in his/her lawyer's ability to advocate for her, s/he needs a different lawyer. I have a friend (no, really) in a similar situation. Her previous lawyer, although perfectly adequate for most divorces, was useless in dealing with this kind of manipulative shitbag ex-husband. Her new lawyer is a complete and utter shark and is worth every last cent of her painfully high hourly rate.

Not every lawyer is good for every case. It is OK for your friend to change lawyers if that will help toward a better outcome.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:14 AM on May 30, 2008

I was a divorce lawyer for 15 years. I used PIs rarely, and only in circumstances where we needed reliable corroborative evidence, usually in cases involving children, or if one party was denying they were cohabiting or working, which affects financial issues.

I remember particularly one case where the child's mother had promised she was not bringing her son into contact with her boyfriend, who had been convicted of child sex offences (a 'nonce', to use the, ahem, proper legal terminology). The grandmother (my client) suspected otherwise, so we hired a PI to follow the mother and, sure enough, she took the kid round to the nonce boyfriend's house. We got photos and video to support what she was saying. Without that, it would have been difficult to convince the court, because the child was too young to be questioned about it.

But generally divorce courts don't like the involvement of PIs and, despite what clients might think, it's usually not relevant to their case to have a PI reporting on their ex's every movement. TV divorces are dramatic and exciting. Real-life divorces involve lots of boring number-crunching and lawyers trying to negotiate or litigate a fair settlement for their client, who always wants more.

If your friend isn't happy with their lawyer, they should find another one. But my maxim, when I was asked to take on a new client who was unhappy with their lawyer was this: if the current lawyer has a good reputation amongst his or her peers then the problem is likely to be the client. I would sometimes turn down client transfers where the previous lawyer was well-known to me to be at the top of their game. Your friend might find, especially in a small town, that his/her options are limited to the Lionel Hutz end of the market.
posted by essexjan at 7:53 AM on May 30, 2008

Without speaking to your specific situation, which others have ably done above, in general you will find that criminal defense lawyers have the most experience with private investigators.
posted by HotToddy at 9:48 AM on May 30, 2008

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