To Catch an Escaped Thief…on Camera

KHOU 11 News Houston, Texas

Houston police have literally chased down a serial burglar who is back behind bars after escaping from a prison mental hospital.

On the west side of Houston, businesses big and small have recently been visited by a thief.

It’s someone that’s been stealing everything from money to computers.

D.A. Smith with Trammel Crow decided to hire Kimmons Investigative Services to put in a high-tech digital video security system. And it paid off.

“We got notified that someone broke into our property on Friday,” says Smith. “On Monday, we checked the cameras out. We saw the guy come in posed as a construction worker.”

Rob Kimmons is a former Houston police officer and president of Kimmons.

He showed how his cameras caught the suspect walking up after business hours with a hard hat.

The doors were locked, but when a woman leaves the building he is able to get inside.

Minutes later the suspect comes out with a computer.

Kimmons took his video to police.

“To be able to add the technology aspect of it that we didn’t have as cops, and to be able to give the police department the benefit of this is a lot of fun,” says Kimmons.

When HPD officers looked at the video, they initially told Kimmons they knew the suspect.

Later they found out he was serving a burglary sentence in the East Texas town of Rusk at one of the state’s mental hospitals, and so they figured it couldn’t be him.

But it was, police soon learned that 43-year-old Glen Archie Woods had somehow escaped.

The prisoner who had already been convicted of burglarizing more than 27 west Houston businesses, was back in the area.

He was spotted by HPD over the weekend and was caught in a stolen truck after a short high-speed chase.

Jeff McShan, KHOU 11 Houston News, May 26, 2005

Keeping A Hidden Eye On Nanny

Nannies are drawing a lot of flack these days as media reports about abuse fuel rising anxiety over child care. In response, some entrepreneurs have emerged to capitalize on the growing concern.

Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc., a Houston-based investigations and security firm, now offers nanny background checks to confirm previous employment, civil litigation history and driving records. The background checks also confirm the validity of a person’s Social Security number.

But that’s not all. If a parent suspects that a child isn’t being properly treated by hired help, the firm also offers a hidden surveillance monitoring system. Surveillance cameras located inside a functioning clock radio sends a signal to a VCR placed in another part of the house. The remote surveillance cameras can be used from room to room while the VCR tapes all day, says Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. President Rob Kimmons, a former Houston police officer.

Kimmons says nanny watching is definitely in vogue these days. “The surveillance video monitoring is becoming increasingly popular with parents,” He says. “They can watch how nannies handle children in a particular room, or videotape their cars to make sure they’re not leaving the house.”

But yuppie espionage doesn’t come cheap. According to Kimmons, the surveillance equipment costs about $150 to install and test, plus $150 a week for rental.

Houston Business Journal, July 5-11,1996

Houston Detective Sues Donald Trump – Claims He Didn’t Pay For Probe

Financially beleaguered New York City tycoon Donald Trump and ex-wife Ivana’s marital split may have cost a Houston private investigator $5,394.90.

Rob Kimmons, owner of Kimmons Investigative Services Inc., claims in a lawsuit Donald Trump failed to pay him for keeping an eye on another Houston private investigator, retained by Ivana to monitor her then husband.

“It just shows you – who knows who really has wealth?” said Kimmons, whose company was tracking Clyde Wilson and his staff as they monitored Donald Trump’s relations with model Marla Maples.

“We work so many cases involving the cream of the crop, who you would think were financially set for life, and the next thing you know, they’re in bankruptcy.”

The Trumps were divorced in December, but distribution of property and the validity of any pre-and post-marital agreement is expected to be settled in an April 11 trial.

Kimmons said Thursday his agency was hired by Trump last summer but has not received a penny for three weeks of work.

His company stopped the investigation, Kimmons said, because Trump failed to deliver a retainer fee as promised. Trump representative’s only explanation was that lawyers hadn’t been paid either, and they would try to get me my money,” Kimmons said, “After that they avoided my phone calls.”

Judd Burnstein, a New York City attorney who represents Trump said, “Our defense will be that services performed were worthless.”

But, Kimmons said he was never given any indication Trump was unhappy with the investigation.

His firm learned that Wilson had confirmed that Trump had an affair with Maples and that his organization was making payments to her.

Wilson said Thursday he uncovered the payments and information at a time Trump denied any such relations. The National Enquirer published his findings, he said, and Kimmons probably verified the information from the Enquirer.

Kimmons said he has never read the Enquirer.

He and Wilson do agree on one thing: They do not get along with each other.

By Jerry Urban, Houston Chronicle, Feb 15, 1991

Surveillance Van Helps Catch Crooks

During his lunch break at the warehouse, this one fellow went home to sell goods stolen from trucks in the loading area.

A second man soon pulled up in a car and went into the house.

Jim Dunbar is a private eye with Kimmons Investigative Services, the detective agency hired by the company that was being stolen from. He wanted to catch the thief in the act of selling hot merchandise, and he suspected the fellow was doing business at his house.

Dunbar was a block and a half away when the fellow arrived home. And when that second guy came along about 15 minutes later, Dunbar was still a block and a half away.

He was precisely where he wanted to be, having arrived a couple of hours earlier, parked in the agency’s specially equipped van at the edge of a business parking lot to wait and watch.

Dunbar was in the back, a partition blocking the view from the windshield, and side windows of dark glass covered by black curtains. No one could see inside.

Waiting, Watching in Comfort

But Dunbar could see out just fine. Video cameras would show him anything that was going on in front, in back, on each side, all around the van. And through the periscope atop the van, another surveillance camera, equipped with a 400 mm lens and doubler, was focused on the thief’s house.

It was a summer day, with a midday sun beating down; it was hot outside. But in the surveillance van, Dunbar turned on Joe Cool, an air conditioner developed especially for surveillance work: an Igloo ice chest rigged with coils and a battery-operated fan.

If he got hungry or thirsty, Dunbar could open a little battery-powered refrigerator for a snack or cold drink. A portable potty eliminated another reason for leaving the van.

He could make or take calls on a cell phone, or use a computer online if, say, he wanted to run a check on a license plate to see who owned some vehicle. Most any work he can do at the office he can do in the van.

There is a comfortable chair in front of the handsome, stained-oak control center containing the video terminals and assorted other equipment. But if Dunbar’s 50-year-old back got to feeling a bit sore, he could switch on the vibrator in the chair, which also has a built-in hot pad.

A little soothing music? He could play his favorite CD or listen to the radio. He could watch the noon news on television or, if he cared to, watch a movie on the VCR. That would be the backup VCR unit. The other two are hooked up to the surveillance cameras.

You’re thinking he shouldn’t watch movies or do anything that would divert his attention from that house, in case those guys came out. But he could use the motion sensor, which would quietly watch the closed door and sound off when it opened, or if someone approached it, or if there were any other movement.

Too Pumped to Relax

Even so, Dunbar said he doesn’t watch movies on the job. Can’t relax like that. Too much adrenaline flowing. He said it has always been that way when there was the possibility of catching a crook.

He spent 27 years as a police officer and became a private eye after retiring as a sergeant from the Houston Police Department.

He said the surveillance van he spends so much time in now is a super tool that makes surveillance work much more comfortable and much more efficient than anything he got to use as a police officer.

Rob Kimmons, top banana at Kimmons Services, said more than $80,000 has been spent on the surveillance van. It looks from the outside like a regular work van used by any number of working men. But inside, the list of electronics goes on and on.

In addition to the features already mentioned, a GPS tracking system makes it possible to tail a truck for a company that suspects a driver of veering off course. There is even a button on the control panel for honking the van’s horn, so that whoever is being watched will turn to look and the video cameras can get a good shot of the person’s face.

When the door of that house opened, Dunbar saw it on the monitor. He switched on the camera and videotaped the two men toting goods out and loading them into the car. Got the cash payoff. Got them shaking hands.

Not only did it solve the case for the company, Dunbar said he showed police the tape, police showed it to the DA’s people, who gave the go-ahead, and the thief was arrested the next day.

Copyright notice: All materials in this archive are copyrighted by Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, L.P., or its news and feature syndicates and wire services. No materials may be directly or indirectly published, posted to Internet and intranet distribution channels, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed in any medium. Neither these materials nor any portion thereof may be stored in a computer except for personal and noncommercial use.

By Thom Marshall, Houston Chronicle, Sunday, December 25,1999

The Difficulty of Gun Control

So, with all this effort and action and debate and with so many people trying to reduce the availability of weapons for criminals, I thought perhaps you might be interested in this little case involving three stolen guns.

Guns are sure in the news a lot lately.

Congress passed the Brady Bill. Then from the private sector we have a growing program that offers toys or other merchandise to people who turn in their guns. And Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen is proposing to increase the annual cost of a gun dealer’s permit to $600 – many times its current level.

So, with all this effort and action and debate and with so many people trying to reduce the availability of weapons for criminals, I thought perhaps you might be interested in this little case involving three stolen guns.

When local private eye Rob Kimmons mentioned some firearms had been taken from his office at Kimmons Investigative Services, I started grilling him for details.

Frankly, if you made a list of all the people you thought you could get away with stealing from, wouldn’t a detective be way down near the bottom?

One of the missing guns is from the PI’s personal collection – an over-and-under, containing both a shotgun barrel and a rifle barrel. It is worth a lot more now than when Rob bought it years ago because this model is no longer made.

Having just this one stolen would have made him plenty mad. But he was furious about the other two.

Not The First Time

They already had been filched once. One of Rob’s Clients is a gun dealer and collector who lost about 30 firearms in a burglary several months ago.

Rob had managed to recover some, most recently a .357 pistol and a 30-30 rifle. It was when the client dropped by Rob’s office to pick up those two that the shamus realized he, himself, had become a crime victim.

Rob reported the theft to police, just like you or I would do, but then he investigated on his own in ways that we probably wouldn’t.

It took Rob very few steps to arrive at a prime suspect. First, his office always is locked up when he’s gone. Second, the only other person with a key wouldn’t have done it. Third, the office recently was painted and the fellow doing the work had been alone in there.

So Rob found out where this guy lived and dropped by for a little tête-à-tête. The guy denied it and agreed to take a polygraph test. They set a day, but when Rob returned to keep the appointment nobody was home.

Asking around the neighborhood, Rob learned his suspect had checked into the VA hospital for problems related to drugs and alcohol.

Rob said he told police what he’d learned and an HPD investigator paid a visit to the fellow, who admitted taking the guns from the office.

Couldn’t give them back, though. Didn’t have them any more. Sold them the same day he took them and wouldn’t say to whom because he was afraid the buyer, a drug dealer who paid with cocaine instead of cash, would kill him.

The fearful fellow soon moved from the hospital to jail. Rob said he went there and managed to convince him to divulge the gun buyer’s identity and whereabouts.

It sounded promising. But Rob said the drug dealer, who appeared to be just a little past 20 and who lived with his grandmother, told him he no longer had the guns. Said he already sold all three of them.

You and I have no way of knowing exactly what might have been said, or how it was said, as Rob and that gun-and-drug dealer stood chatting there in granny’s living room.

But as I understand it, Rob requested that the fellow return to the people he sold the guns to and get them back. The fellow indicated he’d just as soon not try that.

Phrasing it Effectively

But Rob said something like “pretty please.” Or perhaps he tailored a more convincing phrase to suit the occasion, and then the guy said, well OK then, he would. Said he thought he could have the pistol back by the next day but it would take him a bit longer to retrieve the two longer guns.

Instead of doing any of that, however, he took it on the lam. Moved out of grandma’s house. Hid somewhere, Rob has been looking for him and said the police would like to talk with him, too.

That fellow who stole the guns from Rob’s office is doing some hard time now. Rob said he got a five-year sentence after pleading guilty.

As for the guns, there is just no telling where they might be now, or whether the rightful owners ever will see them again.

Each one may already have changed hands again and the colder the trail gets the more times that is likely to happen.

Eventually, maybe somewhere down the line someone might hock one of them. And then, a little later someone else might hock another. Rob said he has recovered other stolen guns by keeping in touch with pawn shops. He’ll just have to wait and see.

All of which seems to demonstrate that trying to control guns can be pretty difficult.

Thom Marshall, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9, 1994

The Latest Bug: Not An Automobile

The kind of bugs we’re talking about here are those eavesdropping bugs, those transmitting devices that can be secretly hidden someplace in your home or office by someone who wants to find out what you are saying to whom.

Probably you don’t have any bug problem. The vast majority of us can rest easy that our lives are bug free. And even if you are worried you might have some, and if you call someone to come find out for sure, the odds are better than 20 to 1 you won’t have any. Or at least there won’t be any bugs by the time the people you called get there to look for them.

Not cockroaches. If you suspect you have that sort of bug problem in this clime, those odds could be turned right around and probably you do. The kind of bugs we’re talking about here are those eavesdropping bugs, those transmitting devices that can be secretly hidden someplace in your home or office by someone who wants to find out what you are saying to whom.

For every variety…

There are many varieties of such bugs. They can be as small as aspirin tablets slipped into ball point pens or cigarette packs. They can be as simple as those baby-room monitors that are sold in many department stores. And anyone who wanted to tap a phone line could easily buy the necessary devices and materials for doing it at many electronics stores.

Local private eye Rob Kimmons also does a lot of what I suppose might be called private ear work. His investigations and security agency, Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc., has some folks who have been specially trained to detect all sorts of eavesdropping transmitters.

But Rob said more than 95 percent of the times people call for someone to come search for bugs, none are found. Occasionally, on a no-bug visit, the private ears may find where a bug once as on a phone line but has been removed.

Rob said the reason is because when the person who was worried about bugs called to ask for someone to come look, guess which phone he used.

Right. The same line that was suspected of being bugged. So then whoever was monitoring the line took the bug off before the pros arrived with an array of electronic equipment to find it.

Thoroughly sweeping an area to locate transmitting devices — or make sure there are none — requires several complicated and costly machines. A spectrum analyzer, for instance. It finds radio signals being transmitted from the area.

Then there is a frequency counter to lock in on whatever specific frequency is being used. And there is a piece of equipment for locating carrier current transmitters, such as might turn up on the back of a wall plug in a room.

And how about the audio amplifier that searches for open speakers on telephones, because someone could bug your speaker phone to transmit even when the receiver is on the hook.

Another interesting gizmo is the TDR, which stands for time domain reflectometer, and which locates breaks, open wires, junctions and splices on phone lines.

But if most of us have no reason to worry about someone bugging us, then who makes up that small percent that is hiring the private ears, and why are they worried about being bugged?

Keeping strategy under cover

One category is lawyers. Rob said one law firm has had him coming around every month for a couple of years, making routine checks. I guess if you are involved in some big lawsuit, you want to make sure the other side doesn’t tap into your strategy planning.

Certain big corporations, too, worry about bugs. Those involved in particularly competitive areas, especially. Like the computer industry. Rob said one company paid several thousand bucks to have much of a hotel checked for bugs before a big meeting.

And before major executive sessions involving secret plans, companies may have the private ears check out a boardroom and then stick around long enough to make sure no one coming in is wired with a transmitter.

One time a couple of partners in a small business were on the outs and one of them suspected the other of bugging him. The private ears found recorders and activators in the ceiling over the telephone equipment. All four lines were being monitored.

Divorce cases sometimes lead to bug suspicions. One time a woman called the private ears to come on over because she thought her husband might be tapping into her phone calls.

Well, they found a device, all right. But it was on the husband’s phone line. Those private ears that she, herself, had summoned discovered the wife was doing the very thing that she suspected her husband of doing.

Thom Marshall of the Houston Chronicle, April 3, 1998

The New Guy Could be a Spy

When you shake hands with a new employee, don’t assume he’s just another friendly face. More companies are hiring private investigators when they suspect there’s a theft or a drug ring operating on company time. The spy, posing as an employee, tries to get the scoop by working side by side with employees and hanging out with them after work at bars and the softball field.

“A spy is a lot more common than people think,” said Rob Kimmons, president of Kimmons Investigative Services, a private investigations and security firm in Houston.

“We’ve never put someone inside who didn’t come up with other things,” said a police administrator who oversees internal investigations for a government agency in Houston. If private investigators were looking for drugs or theft, they discover employees sleeping on the job or leaving work early.

The administrator, who asked not to be identified, said undercover operatives have found employees selling drugs while they were supposed to be working. Other times, they have found small rings of employees stealing tools they later sold to pawn shops.

Private Investigators put to work

If the private investigator is doing his job right, the new employee shouldn’t arouse any suspicions, said Kimmons, who is a former police officer. But it’s tough to introduce a new employee during a time when the company is laying off workers or has a hiring freeze.

But there are ways around that.

One company that hadn’t been hiring put it’s operative to work painting the warehouse, Kimmons said. After all, it needed a paint job.

“You want someone to be able to move around a lot,” Kimmons said. For example, at one hospital Kimmons installed a spy as a housekeeper. That way, he could roam the entire hospital.

To be believable, a good spy operative has to know how to do the job he’s hired to do. No one is going to believe someone is a plumber if he doesn’t know how to unplug a toilet.

And sometimes technical skills are more important than investigative ones. Kimmons needed an airplane pilot to infiltrate an organization, so he found an out-of-work pilot and taught him how to investigate.

And, of course, a good spy can’t ask too many questions.

“You try to get them going and then shut up,” he said. It often takes a couple of weeks to get enough information to call the police.

Some companies routinely bring in undercover operatives every six to twelve months, Kimmons said. After a while employees ask all new employees if they are spies.

The private investigators, of course, say they’re not and eventually, employees trust them enough to start talking, he said.

Threats, harassment targeted

Companies are starting to use private investigators when employees have been threatened or when they’ve complained about on-the-job harassment.

“They’re getting the heck sued out of them when they don’t do anything,”Kimmons said.

Sometimes private investigators are a way to collect evidence before the harassment gets out of hand, he said. And having an undercover operative on-site offers an employer the presence of protection but without the image of an armed guard.

One company that sells and services farm and construction equipment in Houston brought in an investigator when one of its managers had his life threatened by an anonymous caller. The caller complained about racial slurs made by coworkers.

The investigator, who did not go undercover, interviewed employees to find out whether anyone else had been complaining. The company also put guards on the threatened employee and his family.

“We acted on it right away,”said the company’s human resource manager, who asked not to be identified. “I think it showed employees that the company was very concerned and interested.

Some companies even go as far as to hire investigators when an employee is being harassed by a spouse or friend, Kimmons said.

Companies are reacting much more quickly, he said, They’re putting the threatened employee under surveillance, passing out photos of the harasser all over the building and instructing employees how to react if the harasser shows up at work.

By L.M.Sixel, Houston Chronicle, June 7, 1996

Access to Public Data by Computer Makes Private Investigations Quicker

In the world of the corporate detective, information is invaluable. But with the myriad of public records scattered statewide, the value of the data rests largely in the time it takes to get it all. The more time-consuming or difficult the data-gathering process, the more clients pay for the service.

So, several firms that specialize in corporate investigations research have brought some of that public information in-house.

The offices of Intertect Inc. and Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. contain mini-repositories of such records as state court suits, incorporation and assumed name indexes, property deeds and liens, as well as state automobile and federal aircraft registrations.

With that kind of data, much of it on microfiche in the office, the private investigators & detectives can do more research for the client in a shorter period. Only recently has public-source data become available in them.

“In the past, you had to drive to the courthouse, stand in line and sift through piles of documents,” said Intertect President Edmund J. Pankau Jr. “Investigations that took 20 hours three years ago takes four hours now, and (the client) can get a response the same day.”

“This is purely an information business,”said Pankau, 41, who is an avid sport fisherman, “The more information you have, the more work you can do, and the cheaper it becomes.”

Three years ago, Intertect clients would have paid upwards of $750 to $1,000 for a report that would have taken those 20 hours to complete. Today, a much more thorough search can be done and a report prepared for $250.

As Intertect expands into markets outside Texas, Its master pool of information also grows because the firm lines up to buy or time-share whatever public data sources are available, Pankau said.

That not only benefits new clients in those markets, but existing customers as well because future background searches an individual or company can be more thorough, operators say.

Kimmons Investigative Services last year spent over $25,000, and will spend much this year, to buy microfiche files containing thousands of real property documents, and other kinds of city, county, and state records. The firm’s data never grow outdated, said Rob L. Kimmons, 35, who is president and owner.

“We don’t throw any information away,”he said of findings from earlier searches. “We put it on microfiche and store it. So much of our business is repeat and that lowers our overhead.”

Despite the fast research turnaround, there is a limit on the amount of facts available at the fingertips, experts say.

“Things are becoming more computerized, but there will never be one master computer,”said Prankau.

By Gregory Seay, Houston Post

Corporate Detectives – Private Investigators Mix High-Tech with Legwork

The Community Bank southwest of Houston, smelling fat fees and interest, was eager to fund the borrower’s request for a million-dollar business loan. The board of directors had consented. All the documents lacked was the borrower’s signature to close the deal.

But prior to closing, a shocked loan officer spied the borrower’s name in an unflattering newspaper article describing him as one of he biggest financial con artists in America.

The bank quickly stuffed the $1 million back into its pocket. The pseudo-borrower wound up cooling his heels in a Texas prison, convicted of fraud involving a separate bank.

Incidents of these kind have sparked a recurrent question among the public. Why do financial institutions and other businesses allow themselves to be bilked by unscrupulous clients and deadbeats?

The notoriety of such alleged scam artists as J. R. McConnell and Allen Eugene Porter, both under indictment in Houston for financial fraud, and the local business community’s clamor for more penetrating details about prospective clients, has spawned a growth industry: Corporate and Financial Investigations.

Local investigations firms such as Intertect Incorporated, Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc., and noted private investigator Clyde Wilson, are the rising stars of the field. They also are joined by companies that specialize in helping clients – particularly banks which have been burned with billions of dollars worth of uncollected loans – keep track of the property securing loans and other credit contracts.

The modern-day corporate detectives combine high-speed computers tied into local, state and national information pools with old fashioned gumshoe techniques in search of details not usually found in the course of a routine credit check.

At the same time, they see themselves bringing a classier view to the one-sided portrait most have of the private investigators lurking about the shadowy netherworld of trench coats with upturned collars and spyglasses.

In fact, most detectives are at ease wearing ties and sitting in front of a computer. And none of them, by state law, wears a gun; not that some of them wouldn’t need one.

Some, like Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc., will conduct undercover surveillance for clients, but usually in tandem with traditional law enforcement agencies.

“We’re like a businessman’s FBI,” said Edmond J. Pankau, and ex-Green Beret and former Internal Revenue Service investigator, who heads Intertect. “That’s what we’ve become.”

Everyone from doctors, lawyers, retailers to banks, government agencies and firms that lease office space and equipment, are knocking on the doors of the corporate detectives, they say.

The main demand for their services, the experts say, is a byproduct of a Texas economy straining to right itself. Worse, companies and individuals, in their eagerness to do deals, are blinded to the possibility that the smooth talkers with the sound balance sheet and stellar references just might be fudging, or worse, a crook.

Wilson, well known for his private investigations on murder-for-hire cases, says his Clyde Wilson International Investigative & Security Services agency is working with more business clients today than ever before. Some are employers who want to know about the new executive they are planning to bring on board, they said.

“The economy is such right now people can pick and choose employers they want,” Wilson said. “They don’t want the big time and expense to hire a man who doesn’t work out.”

“Investors are starting to use us more lately. Before they put money in, they want to know about the company and the people running it,” he said.

Making business even better for the detectives is that companies, once burned, are reluctant to discuss their misfortune with anyone. Instead of stopping the bad guys in their tracks, the silence allows perpetrators to move on to other unsuspecting victims.

“Some learn from it, but they don’t pass it on,” said Rob L. Kimmons, a former Houston police officer who formed Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. eight years ago.

In many cases, a client will contact Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. for search on a customer that Kimmons found out months earlier was a con artist.

Some corporations, in general, are leery of outside private investigators, Kimmons said.

“Private investigators have the image of what I call the ‘sleeze factor’,” he said.

Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. belongs to the Houston Better Business Bureau. It also compiles its reports solely from public-available data, a reassuring point for clients who don’t want any sloppy or underhanded information that could put them in a position to be sued, Kimmons said.

“We don’t go peeping through windows,” he said.

The investigations industry has a professional association, which offers a standing certification program and continuing education courses.

Even if they don’t love them, many clients of the super sleuths couldn’t be happier with their work.

Attorney Robert Collins says it was a thorough search by Kimmons’ firm that helped the lawyer persuade a judge to jail the officers of a local firm until they paid a court-ordered judgment.

Kimmons search turned up invaluable data about the company and its assets buried in state corporate and legal records, information Collins used to press for payment.

“We got paid,” Collins said.

The lawyer said he relies on Kimmons’ bound dossiers to prepare for court cases in and outside Texas.

The list of satisfactory private investigations goes on. Charles Pfiester of Century Development Co. recalls a prospective tenant for one of Century’s properties who, on paper at least, appeared impeccable. That is until Intertect conducted a thorough background check and found financial documents the man had filed with the court in his recent divorce proceedings didn’t match those he had shown Century.

“The deal quietly went away,” said Pfiester, corporate counsel for Century, which manages more than 13 million square feet of commercial property.

Century has relied, he said, on credit checks, and more recently on the in-depth probing that Intertect offers, to verify the claims of prospects and to weed out potential troublemakers – up to a point.

“We obviously don’t check the backgrounds of the Exxons and the IBM’s,” Pfiester said.

The credit worthiness of those blue-chippers may not be called into question, but with the high number of bankruptcies and loan foreclosures, many more companies and individuals are being subjected to closer scrutiny, experts say.

Take banking, for instance. Used to be, the credit and professional references of the applicant and the location and value of collateral pledged to secure a prospective loan were a bank’s main tools of confidence for taking on a borrower, experts say.

Many of those seat-of-the-pants lending decisions, however, have come back to haunt their makers. Texas’ five largest bank holding companies are stuck with more than $5 million in past-due loans and foreclosed property, much of that from Houston borrowers.

“The city was blowing and growing so fast many of them looked the other way,” said Wayne Fredericks, whose company doesn’t do banking investigations. Rather, it conducts periodic reviews of collateral for lenders, an important job for the banking industry.

Today, a lender will hire Wayne Fredericks & Associates to visit the field to inspect assets securing a debt, especially such mobile items as drilling rigs and construction equipment.

“In many cases, with smaller loans of $500,000 or less, the banks felt comfortable slapping a lien on the collateral. But a lien doesn’t mean anything if the property isn’t there,” said Fredericks.

Fredericks, who has spent 25 years in the field of collateral management, said more lenders also want his ’3rd-party objectivity’ when it comes time to decide whether to bail out of a loan or to demand the borrower put up more security.

His fee to banks runs between $350 to $500 a day. Many banks pass that bill on to the borrower as called for in the terms of the loan, he said.

“The ultimate objective is to have a better, more profitable loan on the books,” Fredericks said.

Said Kimmons, “Banks are waking up to the fact that it would pay off to check out questionable borrowers before they lend to them.”

Four of every ten clients for Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. are banks, up from three years ago, Kimmons said. The firm, which Kimmons started in 1979 doing child custody investigations for lawyers and a little corporate work, is blossoming.

Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. has done work for clients in 41 states, and this year will gross more than $750,000 in revenues. Kimmons, a 35 year old Galena Park native, is aiming for more than $1 million in 1988 revenues, and hopes to double his 13-person investigations staff.

He charges $250 for basic background checks that usually involves a search of state Uniform Commercial Credit files and court records to spot any past or pending litigation involving the applicant.

After Kimmons’ firm checked out one $300,000 loan applicant, the bank denied the loan because Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. turned up several pending court judgment against him tied to unpaid loans at some other lenders. The bank even showed the applicant Kimmons’ report.

Upset about the rejection, the applicant’s lawyer threatened Kimmons with legal action. The complaints eventually died, he said, but in the interim, the bank client was spared a potential $300,000 loss.

While the potential credit deadbeat is the primary focus of deep background checks, spotting the scam artists out for a financial joy ride is at the top of the list nowadays, say experts.

Local businesses were amazed at the alarming speed at which Houston, socked hard by the energy downturn, became a nesting ground for shadowy figures skilled at exploiting corporate weak spots.

“These professional con men never get caught criminally,” said Pankau. “They know the law, but they will have a long history of civil complaints.”

Pankau said the same network of bad guys often will make the rounds in various states and cities to victimize certain industries.

He estimates with some fervor that at least half the bank and savings and loan failures in Houston and Texas (50) were partly the work of con men who stuck the institutions for millions of dollars in unpaid loans. And much of that loss may have been avoided if more probing had been done into the borrower’s background, he said.

With indictments associated with bank fraud on the rise, the scam artists have gone where they reckon the looting is better, Pankau said.

“Fraud has moved from bogus loan borrowings into the leasing of offices and equipment,” said Pankau, whose caseload in that segment is growing as a result. “These are the same con men who were working the banks. They just learned where the new markets are.”

To these white-collar robbers, “free offices and equipment are just like free money,” he said.

For Intertect, it all means a booming business that will gross more than $1 million in revenues this year. The firm has 40 employees, all of whom do investigations of one sort or another, from offices in Houston, Newport Beach, Ca. and Providence, RI. A fourth will open shortly in Denver.

“Our business is counter cyclical,” Pankau said. “When the economy is good, we do good because there is a lot of activity out there. But when the economy is bad, we do better.”

Pankau said he has had offers to take his company public. The proceeds could allow him to open more out-of-state offices and equip them with more of the detailed credit and court housed records so vital to his business.

“There’s just a lot of work out there to do,” he said. “There are whole areas of business that no one has looked at and thought that is something private investigators can do.”

By Gregory Seay, Houston Post