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[FIND] Expertise - How to use your PI - Part 3: The How's Locating Witnesses

Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys continues his series on how to best use the talents of your professional investigator.

Part 3 - Locating Witnesses

Trial phase

Once you take a complicated criminal case, call your professional investigator as soon as practicable. A professional investigator will, upon retention, begin working on a list of potential witnesses. Brief your investigator on as many details of the case as possible. Provide your investigator with a full case file: police reports, statements, crime scene photos, sketches, etc. Your investigator is performing work product, which should (in most cases and in most states) be protected.

The first step is to identify and locate all witnesses in the police reports and statements. Obviously, the professional investigator will (should) interview all of the witnesses that the police have identified. Some of them may not want to talk to you, and they don’t necessarily have to, but a good investigator has a very persuasive manner. A professional investigator will be able to deconstruct witness statements, compare and contrast statements taken at various times, and help you to identify flaws and potential areas of exploitation.

The second step, and arguably the most useful, is the neighborhood canvas. A professional investigator will conduct a thorough search for witnesses that the prosecution either could not find, or that the prosecution would rather you not find. A neighborhood canvas is time consuming, tedious, and requires a systematic approach. But, conducted properly, it can unearth valuable, game-changing information. 

The Appeal Phase

Let's say that your client has been found guilty of first-degree murder and received the death penalty. The crime happened in 1992. Your firm, located in New York, took on the habeas case pro bono. The crime occurred in Memphis. Witnesses have moved. People have forgotten, or have claimed forgetfulness. Time, as they say, marched on. Your resources are tight, and the stakes are extremely high. Please, I beg you, hire a private investigator.

Example: A law firm took on an appeals case here in Tennessee. One witness had offered statements which described three variations of the story, with important differences. Her statement to the police said the defendant had blood on her hands. Her statement to the prosecutor claimed the defendant was “covered” in blood. Her statement to the defense read that the defendant had cuts on her fists and bruises on her face.

The witness owned a house in Germantown, TN. Her daughters lived nearby. They didn’t especially want Mom, by then in her late 70s, to face all this badness again. They would not, under any circumstances, reveal where mom was. A professional investigator, who was called in after three years of trying to locate this witness, found her in less than a day.

Turns out, mom had wanted to set the record straight for years. 


The Sartorial Sleuth - FLIP 

Visit the FLIP website.Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, is a frequent shopper at FLIP, the Nashville men's consignement shop. This place has the absolute best selection of hyper-curated men's style in the city. Klane Maples and Mark Shaffer have assembled a team of fantastic stylist and sartorial rock stars to run this amazing shop. Toss in the on-site tayloring services provided by Toy and you have the best one-stop-shop for a well dressed man on a budget in Nashville.

Mark was kind enought to allow Matt Davies to be seconded to us for a guest post about men's style. If you happen into FLIP on a random afternoon, you'll likely find Matt behind the counter, or on the floor, assembling fantastic combinations of color and texture. Here's what Matt has to say about being a man of style:

Style is an element in our lives that can be extremely cryptic. To some it comes with as ease as breathing. To others, it’s like breathing underwater. Style and dress are an art. The amazing thing about this art is that it can be achieved by any man with a little time and training. Rules and style are two things that consistently clash. If every man went strictly by the rules, we wouldn’t have some of the best dressed icons like Paul Newman, Gianni Agnelli & Steve McQueen. We all think differently, which is why our individual styles should reflect that. It's what makes fashion so much fun. Here are some personal philosophies that I try to live by.

  • A gentleman shouldn’t have too many options, only the right options. Have a set of staples pieces that can be interchanged year round. Items such as a white oxford button down, a navy blazer, a great pair of khakis and jeans would be a great starting list. Adding finishing details will make those outfits unique to you and they will last a lifetime.
  • Rather than picking an outfit based on one article of clothing, pick articles that will express what mood you are trying to achieve for the day. It will automatically make the process more gratifying and build confidence that will ultimately give the outfit its final touch.
  • Embrace the askew. Nothing in your outfit should be too perfect. We’re not walking advertisements, we’re men living life. Baby’s spit-up, red lipstick, your lunch, and a stab from a recent knife fight–these are all badges that we should wear with pride. A slight imperfection can display a great detail and could make a great story.
  • Add a sentimental item to your outfit every now and then. It can even be as small as a pair of cufflinks or tie bar that’s been passed down. A personal article can tell your story-your roots, family, passions and hobbies. Your style is a compliment to your background. A piece with sentimental value gives meaning to your outfit.
  • Invest in ties that will compliment the outfit, not wreck it. You can’t make fashion statements forever. Don’t think about which tie is the loudest and brightest. Think more of which tie can bring out a subtle color in a suit or shirt. A great tie can make an outfit pop and make it versatile. And yes, bow ties apply as well.
  • A great gentleman can think like a child but needs to dress his age when putting together a wardrobe. Dressing like a child won’t get you that promotion you have worked so hard for. Pay a little attention to the small things, like your wardrobe, and I think it will pay off in the end.

[FIND] Vice - NOLA - Clete Purcell

On Clete Purcell: “Insatiability seemed to have been wired into his metabolism...” -James Lee Burke.

Setting: Vieux Carre, the old square, the French Quarter

The old part of New Orleans, the original city, rides just above sea level, peeking over the Mississippi River levee at the silted memories of half a continent roiling by.

In summer, she is unbearably hot and sticky. In winter, just hot and sticky. On a Saturday morning her cobbled streets reek of waste and beer, and the daily early-morning sluicing does little to curb the rankness. She is old. She is tired. But she rides just high enough to not fully sink in the mire. Katrina gave her a good thrumming, but she’s still there, still on the mend, and still a wonderful old soul.

Clete Purcell, the “libidinous trickster of folklore,” divides his schedule between the Quarter and New Iberia. We don’t hear much about his time in the Quarter, but James Lee Burke, creator of Clete and his buddy Dave Robicheaux (Burke’s main character), allows us to draft our own account of Clete’s days in the heart of the Crescent City.

Burke describes Clete Purcell as, “….the nemesis of authority figures and those who sought power over others…a one-man demolition derby.”

Fond scenes unfold in my mind of Clete, pork-pie hat resting on his bald head, slouching in his red convertible Cadillac, waiting outside Coop’s Place for a bail-skip to stroll out onto Decatur Street.

I see plate glass shatter onto the sidewalk. I see a rag-doll body thud to the concrete. Tourists bedecked in faux Hawaiian shirts, cargo-shorts, and flip-flops scatter across the street to the drivelous safety of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Later that evening, adrenaline buzz wearing off, copper-penny taste dissipating, heart rate subsiding, Clete remembers his planned rendezvous with a couple of kind-hearted twin strippers who work in one of the seedy off-Bourbon joints. Clete needs a cocktail and a nice place to court two sisters.

Clete strolls into the alcove-entrance at Sylvain, just a few blocks shy of St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. He wears a white linen suit, powder blue shirt, pork-pie hat, cordovan loafers, and a double act of over-blond exotic dancers, one on each arm.

Murf Reeves, betattooed bouncer turned bar manager, glances up from behind a wooden bar, spies the behemoth of a man wearing a duo of honey-colored-entertainers. Murf’s usually unreadable bouncer countenance unfolds into a smile, that furls into an across the bar handshake-man-side-hug, and introductions. “Sit, Clete. I got the perfect drink for you.”

Murf grabs a bottle of Bulliet Bourbon and pours 1.5 oz into a shaker. Tosses in 0.5 oz. Lemonheart 151, 0.5 oz. Carpana Antica, and 0.5 oz. Cinnamon syrup. Tops the whole concoction off with a dash of lemon juice and shakes. He places a low-ball on the counter, fills it with ice, and pours. “I call this the Gumshoe’s Blackjack.” Murf says. “It’s like you Clete, a sweet hearted guy who packs a punch.”

The Recipe:

Gumshoe’s Blackjack

1.5oz. bulliet bourbon

0.5oz. Lemonheart 151

0.5oz. Carpana Antica

0.5oz. Cinnamon syrup

0.25oz. Lemon juice

Pour all ingredients into a shaker, shake well, and then pour over ice into the glass of your choice.

Murf Reeves is not a fictional construct. He is very real. He’s the bar manger at Sylvain, and a brilliant mixologist. If you find yourself strolling the streets of the French Quarter, saunter into the beautiful courtyard at 625 Chartres Street and sidle up to the bar. Ask for a Gumshoe’s Blackjack. Tell ‘em Nashville private investigator Thomas H. Humphreys sent you. You will not be disappointed.


[FIND] Expertise - How to use your PI - Part 2: The How's Background Research

In this episode of [FIND] Expertise, Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, continues his discussion about how to best utilize your private investigator.

Part 2 - The How's - Background Research

In a criminal case, be it white-collar crime or assault, it is often very helpful to construct a detailed background on each of the key players. But painting a true, detailed picture of each character requires far more than a simple criminal records search. A professional investigator digs deep, makes hundreds of calls, knocks on doors, and follows narrative threads that can make or break a case.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) was accused of rape in May of 2010, his defense team hired professional investigators. Media outlets decried the practice of “digging up dirt” on the victim, claiming that this would turn a jury against the defense. However, in the end it was this very research into the credibility of the victim that lead to the dismissal of charges by the district attorney.

The investigators in the DSK case didn’t just poke around; they hauled through every point of interest exhaustively, chasing down countless leads. At the end of the day, they painted a picture of a woman who had been turning tricks in the hotel for months, an opportunist with sketchy associations. Her credibility shot, the case went away.

Your client doesn’t have to be a public figure to justify the services of a professional investigator. A case we just finished up last year involved an older gentleman who had filed a workers compensation claim against his employer. Our background investigation turned up a pending bankruptcy, filed just prior to the "accident," and two (count them, 2) convictions for fraud (making false statements), both fraud convictions were insurance related. Short story, case was dropped, post haste.

From simple assault to rape to fraud, a detailed background investigation into all of the players can make or break a case. Done properly and in a timely manner, this type of investigation can many times even avoid a trial altogether.

Background Research – The Experts

You know the state is going to parade out a troupe of experts, recognized professionals who will testify for the prosecution. These experts have, in theory, been vetted by the court.

The term vet, as a verb, is a vestige from the horse track. A thoroughbred must be checked for health and soundness by a veterinarian before it is allowed to race. Vet, therefore, simply means to check, to analyze and evaluate prior to a performance. In this situation, it is imperative to thoroughly vet all experts, the ones the prosecution is putting forth as well as the ones you plan to use.

A local law firm decided to rely on an appraisal report, prepared by a highly credentialed appraiser, in a fraud case involving eminent domain. The appraiser prepared the report using sales that occurred after the taking had been announced, a factor that greatly impacted real estate values in the immediate area. This is improper methodology, and it is potentially misleading. Had the law firm thought to vet the expert, they would have learned that he had been – in a very public way – excused from a previous court case for this very same practice. Since they relied on credentials alone, they ended up in a bit of a pickle when their expert was exposed as not-so-expert after all.

The Case of the Inexpert Appraiser was one that any professional investigator, especially one with experience in real estate and fraud, would have discovered in relatively short order. It was reported in a local newspaper. There are countless such “experts” who, if properly vetted, could be excused.

Use your investigator to do the homework. Paying an investigator to do the research is much less expensive than taking your time to pore through the Code of Professional Conduct for Professional Engineers. 

Tune in next week for Part 3, The How's - Locating Witnesses...


Book Cook Cook Book - Public-Sector Accounting Tricks

Some thoughts on public-sector accounting by Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys, CFE.

As a Certified Fraud Examiner, I am often asked to take a look-see at balance sheets, cash flows, and profit and loss statements, budgets, etc. There are tried and true methods of identifying book cooking. We check figures horizontally and vertically against established criteria. We search for anomalies. We identify oddities.

This week's (April 7 -13, 2012) The Economist ran an article on page 84 titled "Book-cooking guide," a brief piece about public-sector accounting practices, practices that wouldn't stand up in the private-sector.

Corporation realizes the sale of an asset on this month's books, but doesn't get paid until next year. It's a simple, yet fraudulent, way to make the numbers look better today.

Company defers the cost of an asset they just acquired until the next accounting period, again fluffing the books. But apparently in the public sector, these tactics are generally accepted. 

Portugal effectively lowered its deficit in 2010 and 2011. Did they do this through fiscal responsibility? No. They cooked the books, "...by taking over pension assets from private companies without recognising the new public liabilities." Here in the good old US of A under the leadership of one of our most beloved fiscal heroes, President Reagan, we cooked the books to meet a deficit target. How? We just delayed military pay and Medicare payments for a bit. 

Down here in the real world, there are accounting standards to meet. Shell games and sleight of hand are not at all encouraged and are generally treated as fraud. However, in the world where a couple billion here and a couple billion there add up to real money, freely adjusting the books is commonplace.

The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) apparently are asking that public sector shenanigans be placed under more scrutiny, something along the lines of asking governments to follow private-sector accounting rules. The IMF has also chimed in with their own, "...laundry list of ways to keep sneaky politicians in check." 

As the writer of the article in The Economist says, "Don't hold your breath."