As a former police officer and a private investigator for over 30 years, I have witnessed the importance of investigation increase, and often influence, the outcome of many family law cases.
By Rob L. Kimmons
Family law investigations often involve surveillance, asset investigation, due diligence, computer and cell phone forensics, locating and interviewing pertinent witnesses and countermeasures (debugging) etc. Most family law specialists have realized the value of the information obtained through investigations in contested family law cases. I have become aware that there are two specific areas of domestic investigations that are particularly controversial and sensitive; asset discovery and vehicle tracking. I often field questions regarding these two investigative areas, which I believe warrant further explanation and discussion.
Investigation and due diligence regarding tangible assets are routine for competent investigators who have the database capabilities and investigative contacts necessary to track these assets. Tangible assets include: real property, vehicles, boats, aircraft, company affiliations, equipment, etc. Investigators can be very effective in identifying these types of assets. The more difficult and challenging area of asset discovery involves locating bank accounts, stocks and bonds, trust funds, other cash accounts, mutual fund accounts, etc. In previous years, investigators were able to utilize information brokers who specialized in these financial account searches. Some of these brokers were very effective. However, the Federal Law (113 stat.1446, section 521) Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999, imposed strict penalties for individuals who obtain information about a third party bank or brokerage account through pretext of deceit.
Some brokers and investigators continue to claim they can obtain financial accounts and bank balances on divorce parties. However, our research and experience indicates that the few information brokers still operating are not reliable in obtaining this type of financial account information (banking, brokerage, mutual funds). Existing laws regulating these types of financial investigations make it very difficult, if not impossible, for information brokers to obtain reliable results, if obtained through legal means. If an information broker is able to accurately indentify bank accounts and balances, they may be getting the information by scamming or pitching financial institutions through the use of illegal pretenses when talking with the institutions. Obviously, this is something none of us would want to be a part of. However, investigators can sometimes identify financial accounts through legitimate sources, such as surveillance, legal monitoring of subject trash, witness interviews, serving garnishments on financial institutions, etc. I would caution family law attorneys to be wary of investigators or information brokers who continue to claim they can legally obtain bank account and stock account information by any other means.
Vehicle tracking is another hot topic in family law investigations. Vehicle trackers have become very advanced and effective in tracking a Subject’s vehicle. Trackers are often utilized in domestic investigations. They can also save clients money by eliminating the need for more than one surveillance investigator, once a tracker is in place. When a tracker is in use, if the Subject is lost, a single investigator with a laptop and wireless internet access can search for the vehicle’s live location through internet tracking software right from his vehicle, and often easily re-locate the vehicle. The installation of a tracking device is legal, if written permission is provided to an investigator, by the owner of the vehicle (This can include a spouse in an ongoing divorce, when the vehicle is a community property asset.) Section 16.06 (4) of the Texas Penal Code states that a licensed private investigator, who has the written consent of a vehicle owner or lessee, can legally install and monitor a tracking device. In appropriate cases, family law attorneys may want to consider allowing an investigator to utilize trackers, when they can be legally installed. They can greatly enhance surveillance results, and reduce client cost in a surveillance case.
Family Law Attorneys should be aware of the vehicle tracking ability of investigators, and may want to have their clients’ vehicles swept to determine if a tracker has been installed by opposing parties. Locating these devices when they are covertly installed on vehicles requires sophisticated countermeasures/debugging equipment that most investigators do not possess.
Rob Kimmons, CHS III, CPP, CFE, is President of Kimmons Investigative Services, Inc. Kimmons Investigative Services has offices In Houston, Dallas, and Austin, Texas.