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

Posted in In the News.