Friday, May 27, 2011

[FIND] Vice - Jim Rockford

"This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message; I'll get back to you." - Answering machine message at the Rockford Agency.

It's sometimes hard to craft a story about someone you idolize. Jim Rockford, for lots of people my age and older, is the iconic modern private investigator. There were others before and of course there's magnum and that passel of PIs that came later, but Rockford is, for many, simply the best.

He lived in a trailer (that seconded as an office), drove a gold Pontiac Firebird, and owned a handgun that, according to him, "I just point it. I don't shoot." Rockford entertained flight attendants on layover, continuously bothered his cop buddies, and spent quality time with his old man, Rocky (see photo at right). 
He was, as was the era, a bit of a sartorial mess. But he had a life that most men envied. 

An ex-con: "I was pardoned." 

An optimist: "Yeah but look at it this way, an inch or two to the left and he'd have missed me completely." 

A fair fighter: "Ow. If I could do that without a roll of quarters in my hand, I'd be a terror." 

A coiner of classic phrases: "Freeze turkey!"

The Rockford Files was a virtual one-liner factory and James Gardner could deliver those lines like no other. So, it is with respect, admiration, and honor that we at [FIND] Investigations bring you this months [FIND] Vice:

The Cocktail - actually a guest post from our friends over at Q103 in Albany, NY, with the perfect tag line: Go Rock (ford) Yourself. Thank you Brian Bushner, Digital Program Director at Townsquare Media for a fantastic guest appearance here at [FIND] Vice. Here's what Brian has to say:

I’m a huge fan of Classic TV shows –  call it part of my nerd charm. I watch The Rockford Files nearly every night and I’m pretty annoyed that NBC is so out of ideas that they are going to remake this classic. So I ask the big question: what would Jim Rockford drink?
When Jim wasn’t being shot at while working on a case that he'd likely never get paid for, he enjoyed sitting in his trailer eating Oreos, or going out to a good steak dinner, or a spicy taco from his favorite restaurant, Casa Taco. Jim always had a beer too with that stuff. Usually it was in a can at home or what I’m pretty sure was a lager at a restaurant or bar.
Beer was pretty boring in the mid to late 1970s. Beers popular at that time included Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitzand a very limited supply of imported beers for variety.  Things started getting better when the ban on homebrewing was lifted in October 1978. The entire microbrewery movement is a fairly recent thing too.
Basically, Rockford was a beer lover with limited options. But if he could sip a cold one today,  here are a few I'd like to pair with his favorite three foods:
Oreos – best known for dunking in milk, dunk in beer at your own risk. I’d say a chocolate and vanilla stout. Breckenridge Brewery makes an awesome vanilla stout, and the Creme Brulee Stout from Southern Tier Brewing Company goes perfectly with Oreos. Very vanilla scent, along with some chocolate and both scents translate to flavor. 
Steak dinner? I’d go with the Brown Ale from Brooklyn Brewery, a great beer which isn’t too heavy. It goes well with a hearty meal, and the flavor pairing with steak is phenomenal. This beer smells like maple and brown sugar. The sweet chestnut flavors mixed with beef (especially grilled) plays a symphony of delight in your mouth. This beer has a low alcohol content so it’s okay to have a second one because once you taste the flavor combinations you’ll want to keep the flavor flowing.
Jim also liked a “spicy taco” from a fictional local joint. Usually I suggest anything with lots of hops, like an IPA, with a spicy food because the hops help cool the burn and the bitter + spicy flavor contrast is one of my favorites. 

Let’s pair Redhook ESB with the spicy taco. The sweet/butter flavors with the spice kicks the flavor up a notch. There are enough hops in this beer to take it a step further and have it with a spicy fish taco. If you take a sip of this as a chaser, the fish flavor returns for a second quick round. It’s a neat flavor trick!
Not sure if Jim would actually drink all that but it was fun to speculate, no?
Thanks again to our friends over at Albany's very own Q103, Go Rock Yourself.
The Cigar - Actually a cigar
By: Joe Zike, Cigar Expert, formerly of UpTown's Smoke Shop

Padron 1926 Anniversary Series
Length: 5-1/2" 
Ring Gauge: 52
Filler: Nicaraguan
Binder: Nicaraguan
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Maduro
Rockford knows how to relax, and he's going to need to after getting caught up in his friends' activities, a bathroom brawl or two, and a car chase in his Pontiac Firebird. He'll take time out to go fishing, and he's gonna bring a cigar along. It'd be the Padron 1926 Anniversary Series #2 maduro. Its dark wrapper gives the cigar a creamy undertone. As the cigar smokes, peppery spice and hickory notes alternate and are kept in check by the creamy undertone. Whether he catches any fish or not doesn't matter. 

On a personal note: We said a temporary goodbye to out friend Joe last Wednesday night. He's off to Germany for a summer internship at journalism school. We're proud of Joe and we wish him well. Give us a call when you get back this direction, we'll share a cigar and a glass of wine at Rumours.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Sartorial Sleuth - Seersuckers and Sazeracs

Shir o Shekar, the Persian phrase for milk and sugar – say it fast enough, soften up those r’s, throw in a slight drawl, and it starts to phonetically blend into one sweet sounding word, seersucker. Yes seersucker, that ubiquitous southern suit material that makes fat men look slim and tall men look gigantic. Pale blue and white stripes alternate in a soldiered pattern, due north-south, into the classic Deep South attire.

Why, you ask, do southern men insist on wearing this vestige of poverty? Well…it’s a matter of practicality. When the thermometer strains near its upper extent and the hygrometer drips condensate, unable to measure above 100, even the gentlest wool blend will send the heartiest man tilting for conditioned air.  

I worked an assignment in New Orleans years ago, last of July first of August, camped out in the Quarter. The job demanded two weeks of research and interviews in the hottest, most humid city in the country. Now, I love New Orleans, but I did not at the time fully understand the pain that the Crescent City can inflict on a man in a suit in the sweltering, never-ending, afternoons of late summer.

I strolled into a lawyer's office soaked to the bone, embarrassed, and about to pass out. The young receptionist looked up from her Robicheaux novel and eyed me with pity. “Aww sweetie,” she said, “you got on the wrong suit.”

Nobody told me. I was young. Standing there in a puddle of sweat, I sheepishly peeled my dark brown suit coat off to reveal a formerly pale blue shirt, now dark blue, nearly the color of rivers you don’t find in Louisiana.

She offered me—at three o’clock in the afternoon—a mint julep, or an ice-tea. I took both, along with a white terrycloth towel to mop my head and neck. I gulped the tea, gulped the julep, asked for more tea, and downed another julep. It was there in the artificial chill of the one glass tower in New Orleans that I received my first lesson in the sartorial anomalies of the Deep South.

“Don’t wear that suit again.” she said. “Go out this afternoon and pick you up a poplin or a seersucker,” she said. “Do it. Don’t worry bout the sweat, that’s just gonna happen.”

The attorney I was to meet swaggered his way down the hall towards the reception area, mint julep, large mint julep, in hand. He wore the most astonishing assuredness. His white shirt, still damp up the front, across the chest, under the arms, looked somehow crisp. His soft yellow tie was loosed just a bit. But his seersucker pants, that’s what caught my attention, blue and white stripes terminating both top and bottom into mid-tan leather. Fantastic, I thought. Fantastic.

It’s summer in Tennessee again. Cicadas, after thirteen quiet years, have emerged to sing their undulating song. The hygrometer shimmers in a turgid, almost angry way. Clouds boil up, threaten, and then dissipate. The air is, as my grandmother used to say, thick.

I’ve packed my wool for the winter, never wanting to hear that phrase, “you got on the wrong suit,” again. My poplin odd jacket is the go to for the next several months. I’m still looking for that perfect seersucker suit, though.

My plan is to find one by next Wednesday, the first of June. That’s right, the first Wednesday of the month, Patterson House time.  We’ll be sitting on the back porch, cocktails in hand, poplin or seersucker all around. Bow ties are still encouraged, but this month the theme is Seersuckers and Sazeracs. Join us if you can.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Private Investigators Can Learn From Savile Row

‘Bespoke’ is actually a term from the 17th Century, when tailors held the full lengths of cloth on the premises. When a customer chose a length of material, it was said to have “been spoken for." … More than 20 measurements and figuration details are taken from the customer. Then a personal pattern will be hand-drafted and cut from scratch—not the basic, adjusted template pattern, as used by so many other tailors these days. Using your pattern, the cloth is then cut and trimmed, along with the finest linings and silks available. A single tailor is then given the parts of the garment to sew together, from the earliest fitting stages, to the final, complete suit. Each suit is completely hand-made, even down to the button holes.
                        - Thomas Mahon, Savile Row Tailor
Off-The-Rack and Made-To-Measure Investigations
There are several companies that provide off-the-shelf options for investigations. These larger “investigative agencies” offer pre-selected criteria, a pre-existing template, on which to base their investigations. These are usually database searches and they are usually based on outdated public records. A few of the larger agencies offer similar made-to-measure options where they offer a pre-priced set of services including limited surveillance, background checks, and minimal actual investigative work.
The problem is, these larger firms offer simple variations on the theme of off-the-shelf and made-to-measure services. These firms have size and resources, but they lack fundamental skills. Engaging these firms for investigations is like buying a suit from Men’s Warehouse. They may look impressive. But will their work hold up? These “investigations” are inexpensive and, like a cheap suit, they fall apart under stress and scrutiny.

Bespoke Investigations

The true professional investigative firm operates more along the lines of a bespoke tailor, a boutique style business that demands hard work and long hours. The cost is typically much higher, but the quality is assuredly superior.

It’s fairly clear to me what we, as investigators, can learn from Savile Row. The process of crafting a bespoke suit is not at all different from fashioning a scope of work for an investigation. Each situation, like each person, is different.

A bespoke tailor will visit with his client, get a sense of the person’s style and attitude. They will measure and craft. They will select tools and cloth specifically for the client. They will, in a sense, create a scope of work.

A professional investigator will do much the same. They will meet with the client, interview him and make notes, get to know the situation as much as possible. They will measure the options to craft a complete scope of work. They will select tools and methods specifically for the client. They will, in a sense, hand-craft a pattern for the investigation.

[FIND] Investigations’ Approach

We are a boutique agency. We spend time with our clients, hand craft a strategy, and assign one professional investigator to oversee each case. We pool our resources, our contacts, our combined expertise to create a scope of work that applies specifically to each client’s case. Each case is hand made, right down to the button holes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fall of the House of Howrey

Here's an idea...Outsource...
I shared brunch with a lawyer friend this morning. She knows I am a private investigator, a professional investigator with recognized credentials. She knows I have a quarter century of experience in real estate transactional due diligence. It never occurred to her, however, until our brunch conversation, that she could leverage my expertise.

This week's The Economist has a two-page story about the legal industry in America. They use Howrey (one of the world’s top 100 law firms)  as an example of sea-change facing the profession. Aside from bankruptcy, securities litigation, and regulation issues, the world of 700 member law firms has been hit hard. Gone are the lucrative mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and it seems that clients are seeking, even demanding, alternatives to the ubiquitous billable hour.

Here in the States alone the legal profession shed nearly 10,000 lawyers in 2009 and 2010. That’s pushing 8% of the total professionals practicing in the 250 firms surveyed. Recent graduates of prestigious law schools are working for scraps. It seems that clients are no longer content to have an associate work their case at a partner’s billable rate.

One point The Economist makes: clients are demanding “…that their lawyers pass certain routine work to cheaper contractors.” While this is potentially bad for some lawyers, it's likely fantastic for highly qualified third parties (i.e., Certified Fraud Examiners, professional investigators, and industry specific experts) and software providers.

Back in the day a firm could pay a salaried associate to paw through files in search of evidence. Now e-discovery software has virtually eliminated that need.

Expert Opinions - It used to be that an associate could read up on a topic and brief the partner, each being paid handsomely for the private course of study. Now, more often than not, it makes more since to bring in a qualified expert in certain fields, pay them a flat fee or lower hourly rate, and likely be better informed in the long run.

The Economist points out that law firms can guarantee themselves work by becoming “…experts in other industries, not just areas of legal practice.” An alternative to this, The Economist points out, would be outsourcing the expertise.

That’s where we come in. That’s where my friend made the connection. She can leverage my expertise, my firm’s collective experience, and craft herself into a linchpin for her firm. When you’re faced with the necessity to acquire industry-specific knowledge, give some thought to outsourcing that need.

Routine/Repetitive Tasks – Locating and interviewing witnesses, identifying and locating assets, all of these are things a lawyer can do. However, it may be more financially feasible to outsource that work to a professional investigator. Two reasons come to mind.

First, a professional investigator has the skill set, connections, and tools to complete these tasks efficiently. This translates into less time (Time = Money). Second, while our rates are at the upper end of the spectrum for investigators, we’re still well below the hourly rate of partners in most law firms.

The following list offers a small sampling of the services professional investigators provide, often freeing the lawyer to focus on more productive issues.

Conflicts of Interest Search –self-dealing, and hidden business interests.

Personal History Research – records for divorces, civil lawsuits, etc.

Professional History Research – detection of resume fraud.

Regulatory Issues Research – complaints by state and federal regulators.

Criminal History Research –national, regional, and county-by-county records for DUI, solicitation of prostitution, and other criminal issues.

Financial Status Analysis – tax liens, civil judgments, etc. review financial statements, lifestyle audits, etc.

Assets Location and Analysis – location of assets, real and personal. Chain or title, in-depth transaction analysis, identification of personal and corporate ownership.

Liabilities Identification tax liens, outstanding debt, mortgages, civil judgments, etc.

Locating Witnesses – locate and interview potential witnesses for litigation prep.

Service of Process – when that person who needs serving is hard to find.

“Many bosses of law firms,” says The Economist, “realize that the profession is changing in ways that will be uncomfortable for some.” Those who utilize their resources, leverage their relationships with experts (CFE’s, Professional Investigators, etc.) in the most efficient manner, will be the ones to succeed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

[FIND] Vice - Dirk Gently

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.  - Dirk Gently

The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. – Dirk Gently

Dirk Gently is the founder and proprietor of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, a boutique firm that solves mysteries of murder and lost cats. I can not in good faith begin to explain Dirk Gently to those of you who are unfamiliar. I will simply provide you with a taste of Douglas Adams’s brilliance excerpted from The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, a Dirk Gently novel. This is how Dirk Gently’s apartment greets the day.

The sun later broke in through the upper windows of a house in North London and struck the peacefully sleeping figure of a man.
The room in which he slept was large and bedraggled and did not much benefit from the sudden intrusion of light. The sun crept slowly across the bedclothes, as if nervous of what it might find amongst them, slunk down the side of the bed, moved in a rather startled way across some objects it encountered on the floor, toyed nervously with a couple of motes of dust, lit briefly on a stued fruitbat hanging in the corner, and fled.
-The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Chapter 3.

The Cocktail – by James Hensley, Spirit-Monkey, via The Patterson House
 [Dirk] seems a strange sort so I think something that inspires the weird is called for.

Odin’s Will – an Absinthe Flip with a twist.

3/4 oz   La Muse Vert Absinthe
1/2 oz   Senior Orange Curacao
3/4 oz   Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 oz   (Fat) Demarar Syrup
13 Drops   Fee's Old Fashioned Bitters
1 Whole Egg

Place the egg and lemon juice in a shaker and dry/mime shake the two together. Then add the rest of the ingredients and ice. Shake long and hard and then strain into a short Hurricane glass or chilled cocktail glass as you like. Serve this drink "up" with a bit of grated nutmeg over the top.

The Cigarby Joe Zike, cigar aficionado extraordinaire, via UpTowns Smoke Shop 
For someone obsessed with the "interconnectedness of all things," the Oliva V Lancero will not disappoint. The Lancero's thin ring gauge allows the wrapper to balance the ligero filler. The mixture results in a woodsy, Columbian coffee flavor that carries a constant mild spice throughout the smoke. It's a perfect medium-bodied medium for an individual investigating the potential clairvoyance of a phenomenon when there are suspicions of coincidence and conjecture.

Cigar: Oliva Series V Lancero
Wrapper: Nicaragua, Habana Sun Grown
Binder: Nicaragua
Filler: Nicaragua, Jalapa Valley Ligero

Length: 7"
Ring Gauge: 38