by: Johnelle Rodriguez
This is another name for listening devices that are used covertly. Our company, Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., has the capability to electronically “sweep” for these bugs, and we do this for several large companies; they get swept twice a year.
To be more specific, we have had high-profile individuals here in South Florida who have been involved in divorce cases and hired us to sweep their new residences. The motive behind this was to make sure their spouses were not using these audio devices or hiring a detective to work on their behalf. We can also do counter-surveillance measures to make sure the husband or wife is not being followed by another investigator.
This type of service is something that is understandable for well-known individuals. However, it is not something we do on a regular basis.
Planting a bugging device on someone’s car to track where he/she is going seems like a simple fix to catch someone’s whereabouts. However, this is not legal. The only way this can lawfully be done is if someone hires an investigator and a device is placed on a vehicle this person owns. For instance, a guy may want to know where his wife is taking his or their vehicle at 2:00 in the morning. If you were in this position, wouldn’t you want to know the same?
“But we believe in not even getting close to the grey line,” Bob, President of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., warns.
The work we do is always legitimate, and we always make sure to abide by the law and by the Florida Statutes, especially because the majority of our clients are law firms.
A privilege we have, which is a key advantage for investigators and law enforcement agencies in general, is special access to databases and sites that allow us to obtain discreet information about individuals. For instance, say we are working on an accident case and have an accident report. There is a witness, John Doe, with an address and date of birth taken by the police officer at the scene. Three years later, the case is going to court and the witness needs to be subpoenaed to take a deposition. However, it is discovered this person moved two years ago.
There are certain sources we use that allow us to locate individuals in circumstances such as these. The company that owns this particular database monitors Bob, our lead investigator, to make sure all their information is secured, locked up, and shredded.
We have a responsibility to protect the privacy of the individual, just as we protect the dates of birth and social security numbers provided in subpoenas for records by redacting them. There is no reason for personal information to get out there. The only other party that needs to have the individual’s information (i.e. vehicle information, tag information, etc.) is the process server going out to serve the document(s).
Here at Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., we also do simple asset searches of real properties, cars, boats, planes, trains, pretty much anything that is considered to be a real property. When it comes to banking-related information, we are able to obtain this, but because of the amendments to the Privacy Act of 1974 (Computer Matching and Privacy Protection amendments) that were enacted in the 1990s, as private investigators, with today’s new technology, it is practically next to impossible. However, with a certified copy of a judgment from our clients, we can search banks and search for individual bank accounts by using the person’s information.
Once we obtain this information, we forward it to the client, who then sends over a writ of garnishment and finds out how much money is in the account. This is how attorneys are able to satisfy judgments. Most of this work is actually done electronically.
Our services are not confined within the United States; we actually perform investigative duties internationally. If a client wants to pay money for the team to go to another country, find an individual, and perform surveillance on this person, we can do this. We have a network of mostly retired FBI agents whose members are tactful and ready to take on these heavy jobs.
Once, there was an individual here from Sweden who was claiming a very severe injury. He showed up in court unable to walk, unable to talk, and barely able to lift his head. Afterward, he got on the plane and went back to Sweden. One of our retired FBI agents there was able to get video of the gentleman walking his grandchild into the park, and he was playing with the child, pushing the child on the swings, throwing the child up in the air and catching it.
“It was pretty damaging,” Bob said.
When the man came to his next hearing, he showed up in court in a wheelchair. When the video was shown in the courtroom, the case was thrown out.
Our most popular investigative service at Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc. is running skip traces. We do about 5-10 of these a day, and we do an average of two background checks a day.
The point of sharing what other services we do on a regular and on a not-so-regular basis is to expose what actually goes into a typical investigation. Sure, serving documents is the bulk of our business, but the investigative side of things is a lot more intricate and is necessary at times. There will always be jobs that require some extra attention and thorough examination.
Even when documents are served to someone, this does not mean that everything is over. There are still trials and hearings and depositions that subsequently take place that ultimately determine the weight of the case, and sometimes, along with these, come investigations of the persons seeking relief.
As I stated in my previous post on surveillance, no, we are not stalkers. However, the investigative work we do requires us to act covertly and use our best judgment to obtain as much information as we can on an individual. The main objective of the investigator is to gather information and nothing more. Investigators do not enforce laws and are not directly involved in the cases they work.
The simple goal is to get to the truth. ♦
by: Johnelle Rodriguez
White on rice.
When we think surveillance, we think of the investigator being on top of the person of interest, not letting that person out of his sight. In movies and TV shows, we see detectives and officers going on high-speed chases and hiding out on tops of buildings with binoculars to keep an eye on their subjects.
Think of The Wire. In efforts to crack drug cases, the detectives in the show went to all sorts of lengths to catch suspects. They would perch on roofs of buildings, hide on top floors of multiple-story buildings and peer through windows with their binoculars and cameras, and would sit in their patrol cars and surveille for hours on end. They would even go undercover and use deception when necessary, but this did not always turn out well.
Unlike the surveillance done on screen, the type of work done by our company usually involves non-criminal cases, mostly insurance defense work with someone claiming injuries, workers’ compensation injuries, and medical malpractice injuries. Therefore, the people of interest are not the kind who would be considered dangerous.
A typical surveillance is done as follows. We receive an assignment from the client, who is usually an attorney or an insurance adjuster. The client provides us with the individual’s name and address, and lots of times, they want to tell us what the injury being scrutinized is. However, we tend to reject receiving this particular piece of information. If we know what the injury is, we may be biased or may be accused of being biased by the opposing counsel when we get on the stand to testify.
If the subject is claiming a knee injury, for instance, and we know this, we would look out for the person limping or favoring the other leg or moving about as if nothing is wrong. Even if we try to ignore the fact that the injury is known to us, we may subconsciously still examine the individual in a biased manner.
So to avoid any conflict, we choose the oblivious route.
The stakeout typically runs from early morning to early evening and is usually done in the daytime because of the types of people involved. Generally speaking, it is easier to keep an eye on people when they are less suspecting they are being filmed. We usually get to our hiding places early in the morning, around 6, 6:30 a.m. or so, while it is still dark out. We set up on the property down the street, where we can conspicuously watch the individual come in or leave.
As far as equipment goes, the surveillance teams all possess different types of cameras. They use standard handheld cameras, their cellphones, pinhole cameras, buttonhole cameras, cameras in their hats—it all depends on the situation which they decide to use. For instance, if an investigator is following someone in a department store, he cannot realistically use a handheld camera to track this person down. The security will more than likely stop him. So under a circumstance like this, something like a body camera would be used.
When it comes to observing people in their houses or on their properties, things get a little trickier.
Sport hunting concealed cameras, which are camouflaged, are usually used in these situations. If we are having difficulty capturing video footage of someone coming out of a house, we place this type of viewer at the base of a tree with some shrubs around it and get video footage that way, for example.
Audio recording is never allowed and is deemed illegal without permission from the person who is speaking. So if someone is in the privacy of their own space, we, by no means, want to have any sort of soundtrack. If the person gets in the car and drives somewhere, we follow them. There have been people who have claimed they are not working who have left the house at 7:00 a.m. with a toolbox and got in their pickup trucks to start their work day. They go to their worksites, and we then get video footage of them hammering sawing, carrying buckets, etc.
“The video doesn’t lie,” Bob says.
This simple statement describes the foundation of surveillance. What better way to obtain information than to do so completely objectively? By solely speaking to someone, you may never get the whole truth. If money and benefits are involved, some people will lie through their teeth and fabricate injuries in order to collect the “good stuff.” But by recording someone without that person knowing, investigators can see what is really going on, whether the person is being honest or dishonest.
As stated in my previous post, Deception, we never use deception in handling our cases. We also don’t like to encounter the individual or engage in conversation with this person.
Hypothetically, say the investigator is a physically attractive young female. We would never put her in the position to act as though her car is broken down and needs help. She would not go up to the subject and say, “Hey. Can you help me with my car for a second?”
The video is more than enough. It tells the truth, and we never want to have any influence on it. ♦
by: Johnelle Rodriguez
We are not stalkers.
Sometimes, people have the misconception that process servers stalk individuals to try and obtain service or go on wild goose chases to create an encounter. It may even be perceived that servers disguise themselves as alternate personas to try and fool the individual being sought.
Although servers do have to sometimes go extra lengths to obtain service, they do not use deception by any means. Locally speaking, the Broward County Sheriff does not allow us to practice this technique.
In the older days, deception was used quite often to get people to come out of their homes. For instance, there was a situation where a process server hired a paint crew to set up shop outside someone’s residence to do some painting. The guy whom service was being attempted on came out and asked the crew what they were doing, and that’s how the documents were able to be delivered to him.
“I’ve had a lot of interesting serves,” Bob says.
Sometimes, when attempting to serve documents, the events that take place can feel surreal, as if they’re being played out in a film onscreen. But the things that happen to process servers on a daily basis are products of real life encounters.
From witnessing individuals completely disrobed to having others blatantly lie to you about their identities when you already have a description of them and know what they look like to having people hide out in their homes for hours on end because they know you’re outside waiting on them to come out of the house, each service has endless enigmatic possibilities.
Bob recalls one service in particular, where he chased a gentleman in his Ferrari around Fort Lauderdale for about 30 minutes. Being the skilled investigator he is, he went back to the man’s house and discovered from the neighbor that the man liked to take his stray dog he found for walks by the Intracoastal. He would do this in the evenings when it was already dark out and no one would be around to see him. He did this without fear of being served.
But he should’ve thought twice.
At the time, Bob had a Dachshund and took the dog along with him on this quest to obtain service. He parked up the street in a vacant lot near where the Intracoastal was. Bob heard the man coming up the street with his dog, so he released his dog, and the two dogs started doing “dog things,” playing around and exploring each other.
So Bob called his dog, and the man called his dog to calm it down. Bob approached the man, apologizing that his dog had gotten loose. He told him he was sorry to bother him and said he was here from New Jersey, visiting his son who lived up the street. The guy introduced himself, telling Bob his name and shaking his hand. Immediately after, Bob pulled the documents out from his back, where he usually likes to hide them, and told the man he was served.
Needless to say, Bob enjoyed this serve.
“To me, that’s not deception,” he says. “That’s just being creative.”
Deception would be identifying yourself as a postman or a pizza delivery man or something of that nature. It’s hard to put a finger on what deception actually is because sometimes you do have to tell a small lie to get past a guard or past a neighbor or something of that nature.
Think about it. In general, all occupations come with their own sets of difficulties, just as life has a way of throwing hurdles at us from time to time. That being said, all services are never going to be cut and dry, especially when they are taking place at residences. Sometimes, servers must think of a tactic that could cause the servee to comply if he/she is avoiding.
We can’t say we are from the Broward Sheriff’s Office, nor can we identify ourselves as deputies or use language that infers we are. Most process servers use the line, “I am a special process server appointed by the Broward Sheriff’s Office.” But if you just walk up to someone and say, “Broward Sheriff’s Office,” that’s considered deception because you are not a deputy nor a police officer nor an employee of the sheriff’s department.
So, although process servers may have to bend the truth just slightly or use a creative approach to obtain service from time to time, deception is never acceptable. ♦