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.

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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

Former Officer Finds His Niche as Private Eye

Sometimes it’s nothing more than a gut feeling that something is wrong that prompts a client to come to Kimmons Investigative Services. Often those hunches are correct. “We prepare them for the worst ahead of time,”he said.”We tell them if you don’t want to know, don’t hire us.”

One client could not understand why the man she adored did not have a home phone number to give her. She came to Kimmons’ private investigations firm with a hunch that he was concealing something from her.

Private investigators found out the man not only had a wife but the police had been called to their home a dozen times that year for domestic disputes.

Kimmons had to tell his client her gentle, attentive dream man was both married and abusive.

He tries not to deliver bad news over the phone. Clients may steel themselves to hear peccadilloes such as spending $1,000 a night at a topless club, or that there is another man or woman involved. What they aren’t prepared for is finding their spouse involved in a same-sex relationship.

“It happens quite a bit,”says Kimmons.

Donald & Ivana

One domestic surveillance assignment has put Kimmons at odds with renowned local investigator Clyde A. Wilson, of Clyde A. Wilson Investigations.

Kimmons was hired by Donald Trump to keep an eye on Wilson during Trump’s bitter divorce from his wife Ivana. She had hired Wilson’s private investigations firm to keep tabs on the Donald, who hired Kimmons to figure out what Wilson was up to.

Wilson found out Kimmons was shadowing him when a neighbor phoned Wilson, who had slipped up to New York, to tell him a strange car was parked across the street watching his house.

Wilson considered the stakeout of his home unprofessional and his appraisal of Kimmons is blunt: “I don’t like him.”

For his part, Kimmons said he would not use some of Wilson’s methods. He described Wilson as “of the old school where you do whatever takes,” But Kimmons respects Wilson’s skill as a private investigator.

“(Wilson) is no dummy as an adversary. He knows what he’s doing and you have to be ready for a dogfight,”Kimmons says.

Changing Clientele

When Kimmons started out, 80 percent of his business involved domestic relations. But since the highrollers of the 80?s oil boom crapped out, Kimmons has seen a shift in his clients from suspicious spouses to corporations and worried parents.

“Parents are investigating their children. We didn’t see that five years ago,” said Kimmons. “Parents are trying so hard to figure out what’d going on and they have so few tools, they are at a disadvantage. We can do a surveillance of their kids and find out who their friends are and if they are into gangs or drugs.’

Private investigators have been called the rich man’s police officer. Kimmons disagrees.

“Even a middle class family can afford to hire a private investigator. It’s better to hire us because we are cheaper than an attorney,”he said.

Within a week, private investigators can report whether the individual being probed has ever been married, arrested, sued, headed a business, owned a house, and even what kind of car they drive.

The rapid growth in the amount of information available by computer has changed Kimmons’ business. Private investigators can gather more information, quicker and cheaper than ever. It takes just a week for Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. to background an individual. A corporation can be profiled in less than two weeks.

The investigations and security agency also surveys security measures at businesses and apartment complexes and recommends improvements.

Wealth of Information

Increasingly, businesses and individuals are finding it pays to be cautious.

The ability to offer fast computer searches at a flat fee rather that an hourly rate has lead to increased use of his private investigations and security agency, he said. Kimmons Investigative Services closed nearly 3,800 cases in 1983.

Revenue has increased 10 percent and 15 percent each of the past five years with projected revenue for fiscal 1994 of $1.2 million.

These days, Kimmons said corporations using private investigators to scrutinize the finances of businesses which are potential merger partners or takeover targets.

With over 350 databases to dig through, Kimmons can tell a corporation if a candidate for an executive slot has the education claimed or was fired from a previous position.

After the giddy ’80?s, it is common for a bank to hire Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. to check out the creditworthiness of individuals applying for big ticket loans.

Kimmons Investigative Services’s investigators can go online with 13,000 state and national banks to search for assets such as checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit in any of over 50,000 branch banks. Such an extensive search takes less than two weeks.

About 40 percent of Kimmons Investigative Services’s work is performed for corporate clients. Only 10 percent of the agency’s cases now involve domestic relations.

The other half of Kimmons Investigative Services’s caseload comes from law firms working on personal injury cases.

Attorney Michael O’Brien has hired Kimmons to check on the truthfulness of prospective clients and to investigate airplane crashes in South America. O’Brien said Kimmons has good judgment about what tactics are acceptable.

Death row cases

Kimmons said the narrative format of Kimmons Investigative Services reports is easily understood by clients and documents thresh time charges submitted to the client.

The reports are also useful to investigators who may be called to testify in lawsuits years after they complete investigations.

Kimmons Investigative Services’s work an a charity death row appeal has gained high praise from Vinson& Elkins attorney Scott J. Atlas.

In 1992, the Mexican government asked Atlas to represent Ricardo Aldape Guerra, a Mexican national who had spent a decade on death row for the murder of a Houston police officer. Atlas asked Kimmons’ help in locating witnesses to the crime.

Working at cost, Kimmons Investigative Services spent nearly a year running down witnesses to the 12-year-old crime, many of whom spoke little English and were transient.

Largely because of Kimmons’ work, Guerra has been granted a new trial, said Atlas.

Rewarding Work

Kimmons said he finds being a private investigator very different from his days as a police officer.

“There is a lot more variety. You can take a case from beginning to end. A street cop starts a case and doesn’t know how it’s finished,” said Kimmons. “We get to work closely with our clients and go forward with it.

Kimmons’ employees include former police officers, a former magazine reporter, a former paralegal and a Spanish-speaking investigator.

On complex cases, the private investigators work as a team, with a bullpen session to decide how to tackle the investigation. If there is a need for undercover work, an investigator may land a janitorial job.

In cases involving company employees, the investigator may need as long as six months to gain the trust of fellow workers before determining if theft or drug abuse is taking place.

:It’s a rough business, You have to know how far you can go and what not to do. You are very susceptible to attack by adversaries,”he said.

By Jeanne Lang Jones, Houston Post Staff

Hiring the Wrong Person Can Prove Costly: Background Checks Pay Off

Companies pay a high price for hiring the wrong people. Not only do unscrupulous employees drain corporate coffers with kickback schemes and embezzlement, they also pose a significant liability threat.

An article published last year by the Society for Human Resource Management pointed to a case in Colorado where the state court ordered McDonald’s to pay a $210,000 damage award after a worker sexually assaulted a 3-year-old boy at McDonald’s restaurant.

“The employee had a history of sexually assaulting children, but McDonald’s had failed to check all of the employee’s references,” the article said.

A local seismic firm that almost hired Iron Thundershoe, a paroled rapist who after his release allegedly raped and strangled his wife, has been burned by dishonest employees more than once.

The company hired a young man who later turned out to be a prison escapee. He was hired for a clerk position and worked for the firm for about six months.

One day he just left–with four or five pages out of a company check book. He was never caught and the company never recovered the $30,000 in checks he wrote.

Another recent incident cost the firm about $11,000. An employee that came to the firm from a local temporary agency did such a good job she was asked to stay on permanently.

“We didn’t do background checks,” a manager with the company said. It later turned out the woman was a parole violator who had written bad checks. Before leaving the company, she made several unauthorized purchases.

The seismic company now has Kimmons Services Inc. conduct pre-employment background checks.

The cost averages between $70 to $250 depending on how extensive the investigation is.

“It’s expensive not to run these background checks,”a spokesman for the seismic company said.

Private investigator Edmund J. Pankau, owner of Houston-based Intertect Inc., said there are a number of simple background checks companies can do to protect themselves and their employees. Many of them are contained in a book he’s written, titled Check It Out

-The first place to start, particularly if the applicant will be in a position of dealing with the public, is to find out whether the person has any criminal convictions. “We just did 100 people for a major oil company and found that 17 of them had criminal records,” Pankau said.

-No matter what kind of job the person will be hired for, run background checks on the civil records to see if they have a history of previous workers’ compensation claims or injury suits.

-If the person will be close to money, run a credit report. If the applicant’s personal finances are in shambles, he or she might not be able to resist temptation.

-If the applicant will be driving a company vehicle, run background checks on the person’s driving record.

Do background checks for drug use. “People that test positive for drugs are six times as likely to steal” than a person who tests negative. Pankau said.

Rob Kimmons, a local private investigator and owner of Kimmons Services, Inc., said companies are slowly beginning to realize the benefits of pre-employment screening.

“One thing I think they’re realizing is the cost of training an employee who then doesn’t work out,” he said. “If they’re smart, I think they’ll spend a little money on the front end in hopes they’ll get the right person to begin with.”

Pankau agrees.

“A good person takes what you’ve done and enhances it. A bad person will destroy it,” he said. “So if you’re going to hire someone, have a person who can add to your business.”

By Cynthia Shanley, Houston Post Staff

Kimmons Investigative Services Proves Valuable to Lenders, Attorneys

Two former law enforcement officers have traded in their badges, guns and late night surveillance habits to peruse paper trails left behind among the millions of pieces of information filed in county courthouses across the nation.

The information, while part of the public record, can be difficult to uncover but very valuable to bankers, attorneys and others, says Rob L. Kimmons, president of Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc.

Searches of public records have turned up individuals with 15 to 20 corporate identities they had not revealed and assisted banks and lawyers in locating assets to recover.

One man was about to default on a large loan to a local bank until his banker reminded him of certain assets the man owned that were uncovered by a Kimmons Security Services report.

Instead of signing default papers, the borrower pulled out a checkbook from another institution and paid off his loan, Kimmons said.

Kimmons, a former Houston police officer and now president of AARInvestigations, got into the research business by purchasing the assets of a local firm last year and renaming it Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc.

For a fee, banks, attorneys and others can obtain a rundown of information available from 355 public record sources.

The staff of seven will cull records in Harris County, nearby counties or anywhere in the country to provide information on individuals from bankruptcy courts, civil and criminal court records, federal tax liens, corporate status listings, Uniform Commercial Code filings, tax rolls, and many other public documents.

The service can save time, money and complications, Kimmons claimed. The company offers two reports. A $500 report is suitable for use as a screening tool, Kimmons said, while a $1,500 report can offer comprehensive information on an individual from a two-county area. Searches in additional counties are extra.

Kimmons Investigative Services works with a number of commercial banks that have ordered their reports either before making a large loan, or after a loan has soured, to help track down missing assets which they can recover to pay off the loan.

“When the oil and gas business was booming, so many banks were making loans to beat out other banks,” Kimmons said. “We’re finding that they have very little information on some of their customers. Sometimes just a name.”

The company compiled a pre-loan check for one financial institution and found that the applicant had defaulted on nine previous loans.

Attorneys also find the information valuable to track assets and to help wives in divorce cases. “If an attorney has a judgment, it doesn’t do him any good if he doesn’t know where the assets are,” Kimmons explained.

“Many people still have all the assets they acquired when energy was booming, but they have diversified and moved them to other companies. This leaves a paper trail,” said Michael A. Guidry, a former state trooper who now is executive Vice-President of Kimmons Investigative Services and runs the day-to-day operation. “If you can show where the assets were moved, you have a better chance of recovering them.”

In some divorce cases, wives will have no idea of the assets their husbands have acquired over the years, Guidry noted. The firm’s reports have been used by divorce lawyers in a number of cases. The reports can also be useful to investors who plan to hand over large sums of money to individuals they may not know well.

Kimmons said his two companies, the investigation firm and the research firm, can often handle cases together when both services are needed.

The staff not only has access to records in Harris County, but also subscribes to a number of public documents from the county and the secretary of state’s office.

Although Kimmons spends much of his time on investigations, he finds the research business more interesting than police work:

“It’s more diversified and more challenging, The biggest difference is in dealing with corporations.”

Guidry added that the firm not only researches public records, but also helps “fit the pieces together.”

Kimmons has found the market for the service expanding since he took over the company late last year. He knew bankers and attorneys would pay for his reports, but he has also found credit managers and investors will pay for the service as well since it provides more extensive information than a credit report or a Dun & Bradstreet file.

“Every day we are finding new people,” Kimmons said.

By Eileen O’Grady, Post Business Writer

Proper Review of Information Can Protect Investors

Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to get someone to use their brains. Take, for example, the European businessman who plunked down about $200,00 in a limited partnership promoted by a Houston “good old boy” who showed him some oil and gas prospects that looked too good to be true. You guessed it , they were.

Or, continuing with instances, the investors who sunk $8 million into an oil and gas drilling deal in Oklahoma and soon began to wonder why they weren’t getting any reports from the company or, more importantly, any money from anyone.

As the lyrics to that famous campfire ditty go, “Same song, second verse; should get better but it’s going to get worse.”

Bob Adams, Vice-President and operations manager of San Felipe Oil & Gas Corp., in Houston, said, “Unfortunately, these swindlers happen and when they do everyone suffers including the honest people in the oil and gas industry. Foreign and American investors get bilked by these schemes and in these two incidents I believe they may very well have saved their money if they had done their due diligence first.”

Information available:

What Adams was referring to was using the services of a Houston based investigations firm called Kimmons Investigative Services, which specializes in providing information about individuals and companies to the business and financial communities through searches of public records.

By utilizing the Freedom of Information Act and the Texas Open Records Act, the company has identified and obtained access to several hundred different sources of information. Included in these sources are such public record documents as: assumed name and corporate affiliations rolls; tax and real property records; real estate transactions; liens and judgment activities; uniform commercial code (UCC) filings; civil and criminal court cases; federal civil, criminal and bankruptcy cases; drivers, marriages and professional license lists; and many more. All of which are assembled in the company’s research department on extensive computer output microfilm and computer microfiche libraries.

The investigations and security company also has a library of published volumes and books containing supplemental information as well as access to other computer terminals and databanks. Through these various resources, the company’s researchers are able to obtain information about literally millions of people and companies.

Various clients:

Rob L. Kimmons, president of Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. and its sister company, AAR Investigations, said the firm’s clients are a wide variety of companies, attorneys and banks who use the reports for merger and acquisition evaluations, possible conflicts of interest, location of concealed assets, evaluation of potential business partners and other reasons.

It was through Kimmons Investigative Services that Adams learned that the European investors had been “had”. But, by that time it was too late for any recourse, even legal, because of the manner in which the deal had been structured.

Adams says, “Our company is 90% owned by a Swiss investment bank and he is one of the bank’s clients. As a favor, the bank asked me if I could check into the matter. A friend of mine who is a banker and I were talking and I mentioned my problem. He said, ‘Why don’t you contact Kimmons Investigative Services? We use them to locate hidden assets and they do a marvelous job.’ So, I did.”

Moving the Money:

“The report they brought back was incredible. This guy was involved in all kinds of law suits. The Internal Revenue Service was after him. He was in all sorts of corporations, some in his name; some in his wife’s name; in his ex-wife’s name; and under his secretary’s name. He’d be president of some and treasurer of others. It was a maze.

“We found out that the firm in which the European had invested was registered in the Bahamas by the promoter who then took the funds from that company and reinvested them in his Houston company, So, the only way the European could get his money back was to sue in the Bahamas first and then come to the U.S. It was an impossible situation. I know if he had seen the guy’s record first he would have never given him $200,000. No way.”

Kimmons says that it is usually a “tip off” that something unethical will be disclosed when a search reveals a person in a multitude of companies operating under different names and with relatives and friends as the officers but holding different job titles. Usually, these individuals are involved in an uncommon amount of legal actions as well.

“They use these companies to keep their activities murky. Some of the companies will be active and some will be dead or just paper companies,”Kimmons said.

Kinds of Reports:

Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. investigations and security services offers clients three types of reports, The basic report is designed to cover the principal informational needs. It is an in depth analysis that taps all available resources of the company and usually establishes relationships, assets, and transactions that are otherwise virtually untraceable. This report costs about $1,500.

Another is the index report, which is designed to supplement information normally available to banks and financial institutions. It covers the principal needs of anyone desiring an overall view of a person or company. The cost of this depends upon the amount of information required.

The last is the tailored report, which is designed to a company’s or individual’s specific needs by expanding or modifying an existing report. The cost is dependent upon information required and time expended.

The Vanishing $8 Million:

Kimmons was not involved in the incident involving the $8 million Oklahoma drilling deal. Adams said when the investors finally traced the activities, they discovered the promoters were using the drilling company as a front, and once they got all the money invested they could, they sold the assets, paid off the bank and vanished with the difference.

Kimmons said his investigations and security company could have investigated the drilling company through public records in Oklahoma but it would have taken a little more time than it does in Texas.

“We have private investigators working out of state all the time. We give up some computer speed, but we can produce an excellent report because we know where to look for these records and most people don’t.”

He pointed out that most companies don’t have clerks trained in legal research and can spend weeks at a courthouse without locating as much information as private investigators of Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. can.

“And,” Adams says, “what’s nice about Kimmons and Associates’ reports, is that they are all admissible in court as legal documents, if need be. You get an idea of the individual’s or company’s general business characteristics before getting involved. Sometimes the best deal you can make is the one you don’t to. That’s using your brains.”

Security Management, July 1985.