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Warning: “Outlaw investigators are on the rise”

August 31, 2010

After personal exposure to several unacceptable situations involving unlicensed and potentially harmful private investigation activity; I  took it upon myself to compose an “open letter ” to the Virginia Bar Association. 

I must say it took a while for me to word it quite the right way… to approach it objectively.  After thinking on the matter further, I’ve decided to post it here publicly for the benefit of my readers.  Ultimately, your attorney, along with their paralegals, secretaries, clerical staff, and yes… the private investigator… we’re supposed to be working to your benefit.  After all,  whether a company or an individual, YOU  are ultimately, the client.  Therefore,  I’d like to offer some advice and awareness regarding a problem that continues to plague the industry:   unlicensed private investigators soliciting business.

Repeat visitors to this blog likey return to read more of “Bulldog’s view” because they appreciate the bluntness I put forth in my postings.    I’m not going to make this important topic some sort of an exception. 

 You don’t need to hire an licensed private investigation company  just because it’s the right thing to do, or gives me the warm fuzzies, or puts food on my table.  If you are in need of someone to conduct an investigation,  you’re trying to solve a problem.  Using an unlicensed, unregulated, and likely unscrupulous PI is likely to make the problem worse.  In short, it’s detrimental to your case and legal position. Period.

I would like to make one quick additional comment regarding the client/PI/attorney relationship… generally speaking, a client needs an attorney.  It’s been my experience that PI’s typically acknowledge that.  I personally feel that (especially if we’re dealing with a divorce, child welfare, or other type of civil dispute) the client needs an attorney involved from the beginning.  Typically however, attorney’s don’t perform surveillance, serve papers, walk into potentially physically confrontational situations, and so forth.. essentially perform in-depth investigations.  Yet, without that research… on the ground… on the internet… through interviews… how else does the attorney have good solid information, in a sense “the ammunition,” to present your case effectively in court?  Sometimes I wonder if attorneys neglect to bring that little piece of information up with their client, but I’m digressing… 

The letter now follows:

As submitted to members of the Virginia Bar Association:
 
 
Virginia based law firms need to verify a private investigator’s credentials prior to contracting for their services.  There has been an increase in unlicensed activity as of late, particularly in southwest Virginia.
 
There are several specific examples I would like to bring to your attention. Situations where a law firm could wind up “with egg on it’s face.”
 
 
Example #1:
 
 
An unlicensed private investigator out of Blacksburg, Virginia had been soliciting business on several websites in flagrant violation of DCJS rules.  As a result, that company is now under DCJS investigation and the known web based advertisements have been removed.  Speaking candidly, why should a law firm be concerned regarding unlicensed activity?
 
Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that opposing council could request dismissal of evidence obtained by an unlicensed private investigation firm.  Evidence obtained in this manner would technically have been gathered illegally and therefore should be inadmissable.  That certainly would result in an awkward position for which ever law firm contracted investigative services.
 
Additional specifics are currently posted on my blog:
 
https://bulldogpi.wordpress.com
 
 
Example #2
 

Virginia Court Services

A private investigation colleague of mine had inquired as to whether I found information posted on a competitor’s website misleading. The company in question is currently licensed  to provide private investigation services, not personal protection, armed security, or any other category of private security (as defined by DCJS).  Previously the website of “Virginia Court Services” stated several of their employees were authorized to provide personal protection and security services, in addition to private investigation.  The website did not specifically state the business itself was able to contract those services, but it was implied. Unless those individuals are directly employed by an organization they must provide armed security services through a licensed security company.  I’m not entirely sure regarding “direct hire” and the finer details of personal protection specialist requirements.  I do know a DCJS category and licensing requirements exist for that classification.
 
According to the code of Virginia, in order to contract for private security services one must be an employee of the firm endorsed in those categories. In many situations an “in-house” employee (such as a security officer directly employed by an apartment complex) is exempt from DCJS requirements.  An outsourced/contracted arrangement (such as the described security officer) is not exempt. Businesses which provide private security services in Virginia are required to meet very specific requirements. When in doubt, I urge you to review the Code of Virginia section which applies to private security services. 

Ironically,  the same company’s website also stresses the Federal Court appointment of their “special process servers.”   Sounds pretty impressive, doesn’t it?   (Their statement also obviously implies that those which are not “court appointed” are somehow illegitimate).Yet, then they turn around and simultaneously attempt to outsource those services to other process servers and PI’s.  I know, because they called me.  I’m a member of NAPPS (the National Association of Professional Process Servers) but I’m not “Federally Court Appointed.”  I also had never heard of such a thing.  Something seems amiss here.   

As a result of this, I made some inquries regarding Virginia Court Services of my PISA colleagues  (the Private Investigator and Security Association) at our last symposium.   Several attendees acknowledged they also recieved solicitations from Virginia Court Services (VCS), looking to outsource work to them as well.   What happened to the “court appointed” part of the equation?  I then contacted the chief justice of the Western District Court and was informed that “special appointment” is not necessary to serve documents on behalf of a Federal Court.

DCJS was informed regarding the “personal protection” solicitation on the VCS website and  it has since been removed.  The “special appointment” nonsense (and as far as I know, the outsourcing) continues.  If your firm desires a “special process server”  appointed by a “Federal District Court” due to some requirement I’m unaware of,  please insist that VCS not  turn around and outsource the assignment to those of us without those credentials.
  

I’m not sure of the circumstances, but the owner of this Process Server directory does not sound particularly impressed with Virginia Court Services either:

http://www.greatprocessservers.com/virginia_process_servers.htm

DO NOT USE Jeff Spar at Virginia Court Services. Due to his unprofessional and unethical practice of not paying for services rendered he has been banned from this list. Please scroll down to Roanoke for an alternate company
Back to the primary topic on hand.  The legitimacy of a  Virgina based private investigation company is easy to verify through the following link:
 
 
https://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/ps/directory/businesssearch.cfm?
 
A legitimate private investigation business with be registered in the “02” category. 
 
Of additional note, there are a few states where reciprocity agreements exist with Virginia regarding private investigation.  I reccommend a law firm which utilizes an out of state private investigator familiarize themselves with those agreements.  I believe those agreements are available online  through the DCJS website.
 
As an FYI, West Virginia is not one of those reciprocity honoring states.  It’s my understanding that private investigators from WV require licensing in Virginia to pursue an investigation across the state line.
 
When in doubt, contact DCJS and they will clarify the specifics.
 
 
Example #3
 
 
Finally,  as a member of NAPPS (the National Association of Professional Process Servers) I have been contacted by other companies to provide private investigation services under the guise of  a “service of process” assignment. In one particular case, after accepting an assignment I was forwarded a worksheet requiring completion prior to payment. 

Information sought on these worksheets included items such as:
 
Vehicle VIN numbers of vehicles present
License Plate numbers present
Photographs of the residence
Conditions of the residence
The occupants at the residence
Tax information regarding the residence
and additional details if available.
 

Uhh, excuse me… that’s not process serving.  I don’t know exactly what it is, but it sounds more like an asset search to me then process serving.    I decided to contact Burton Walker, a DJCS enforcement agent and discuss the matter.  Mr. Walker agreed with my conclusion: the information requested was of an investigative nature and subject to DCJS regulations.  Only private security services companies approved by DCJS to provide private investigation services are authorized to provide such extensive information.
 
It’s my professional opinion that assignments such as I just described, ones which so flagrantly bend the rules, will ultimately pressure DCJS into overseeing service of process.  Some discussion has already transpired  at DCJS regarding the possible necessity of process serving regulations.
  
Even if a process server obtained and forwarded that sort of information, a question comes to my mind:  Could opposing council could argue it was illegally obtained and therefore inadmissible?
 
 
Please help those that are properly licensed, trained, and insured maintain a professional industry, for all our sakes.
 
Sincerely,
 
James Pollock, President
Bulldog Investigations and Security LLC
Virginia DCJS #11-6038
540-922-3896
james@bulldogpi.net
 
Member of the following professional organizations:
 
PISA (Private Investigators and Security Association of Virginia)
PIAVA (Private Investigators Association of Virginia)
NAPPS (National Association of Professional Process Servers)

2 Comments
  1. Bulldog note: Another questionable recent addition to Virginia’s collection of private investigators includes an individual who’s now pursuing (per his company’s webpage) “his life long dream.”

    I believe his recent claim to fame is employment by a VT college student.

    His mission?
    To locate a the owner of a dangerous Rottweiller which attacked his client’s dog.
    The victim: Otto, a cute little Cairn Terrier which later died from the wounds.

    The owner of the dog is devastated by the loss. Argh. Even my sometimes calloused heart goes out to her.

    That’s a pro-bono situation if I ever heard one. I won’t say I would personally dedicate dozens of hours to working that case for free. I will say I would of made inquiries, canvassed the neighborhood, and tried to help simply because it’s the right thing to do. So much for the life-long dream theory.

    Of course, the apartment property manager is on the ball, and helping the student tenant solve the mystery…. NOT.

    Bulldog Note:
    Initially while composing this posting, I had begun to go off in a new direction… frustrations regarding the student drinking issue in Blacksburg began to come out. Later, I decided to move that topic to a separate blog posting however. I was beginning to steer way off topic.

    My comments to the grieving student:

    I am sympathetic and hope you’re able to find out something regarding the attacking Rottweiler. It was very irresponsible for the owner of that dog to quietly depart the scene rather than trying to help. In addition, I suggest you move. Soon. Find yourself a private residence for rent that’s away from downtown. Much of what takes place in Blacksburg’s larger apartment complexes gets swept under the rug.

    Bulldog

  2. We’ve had quite a bit of trouble with unlicensed activity out here in California, too. Regulatory agencies are aware of the problem, but unfortunately, they just don’t have the resources to do much about it. Looks like the best course of action is for legit PIs to keep working to educate the public, as you’ve done with this post.

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