University Investigations: How Private Investigators Can Help

University Investigations: How Private Investigators Can Help

Unviersity investigations require independent investigators

It is not uncommon for university investigations to feature some level of noncompliance and the university not cooperating with police or law enforcement. An aura of austerity and secrecy develops as the top decision-markers close ranks and circle the wagons to protect the interests of the university. No one usually thinks of universities as corporations, but they do bring in billions of dollars per year throughout the United States, much of that cash flow coming from private donors whose interests must also be protected during the investigation. Private investigators can take the same skillsets that allow them to expose misconduct within a corporation and apply them to university investigations.

Corporate investigations vs. university investigations

University investigations are rather common, though the investigation type is not always the same. When it comes to intelligence operations, private universities as an entity are a proverbial garden of opportunities for private investigators to apply their trade. There are two principal pools where the crime and misconduct are found. There’s the student body, who finds time for socializing and partying when they’re not hitting the books. Crimes committed within the student body may not be easily closed, either because the students involved or the university itself are not cooperating. The other common pool of opportunity is in the university faculty. While a university is not strictly a corporation, they experience similar workplace environments and are subject to the same workplace dynamics as businesses or nonprofits. There’s harassment between coworkers, financial misconduct, other forms of fraud, bribery, and collusion. These are all opportunities for private investigators to apply their methodology in a way that can improve a university for both the faculty and the student body.

Sexual assault investigations

Anyone who has ever seen a Dick Wolf police procedural knows that one of the most common crimes associated with universities is sexual assault. RAINN, the country’s largest organization combatting sexual violence estimates “11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” Sexual violence on campuses is pervasive and it is not uncommon for the university police to be ill-equipped or unwilling to help. InvestigateWest calls the phenomenon “a culture of indifference.” If the survivor then supersedes campus police and reports the assault to their local police department, a faulty investigation on behalf of campus police—either intentionally or otherwise—can severely impact the police’s investigation. This often leaves survivors with no recourse for justice, and are often compelled to continue attending classes in the same vicinity as their alleged attacker. This extends not only to student-on-student assault, but also between faculty and student, with even more devastatingly high stakes for the university as well as the survivor. Repeated instances in which the university ultimately shields the accused and displays documented negligence in properly investigating the survivor’s allegations can constitute a pattern of misconduct.

Violence, vandalism and theft

While sexual assault is one of the most serious and heinous crimes associated with campus life and work, there are other issues of student misconduct that require proper investigative methodology that campus police or local law enforcement might be ill-equipped to handle. Things such as theft, vandalism, stalking, and other forms of violence can also go unchecked if not properly investigated. When a victim has no recourse from other authorities, a private investigator can be the perfect professional to provide crucial context. Their proficiency in running comprehensive background checks and locating subjects, private investigators can make contact with elusive persons of interests in university investigations. Private investigators can go undercover, documenting behavior and actions that might otherwise be concealed. Private investigators also have an investigative edge over law enforcement. Though they are licensed and bonded by the states, private investigators are still private citizens. Young adults ages 18-24 typically have a great deal to lose in university investigations, including financial loss, loss of scholarships or grants, expulsion, arrest, and fallout with their families. This fosters a pattern of noncooperation with law enforcement in order to minimize consequences for themselves and their friends. Another critical factor is that underage drinking and illegal drug use are synonymous with campus culture, which could prompt additional consequences. However, private investigators have no powers of arrest, which can lead to the cooperation of subjects in university investigations. This dislodges any roadblocks in case progression, increasing the likelihood of a solution.

Faculty subjects in university investigations

Describing the impact of the crimes previously described become exponentially more devastating when you expand the pool of perpetrators to university faculty and staff. Furthermore, the level of noncooperation with investigating bodies when it comes to university investigations typically increases when it involves a staff member, and is proportional to their role within the university. The college admissions scandal in 2019, involving high profile defendants Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, showed everyone how much bad press universities can get when misconduct is exposed on the national stage, and universities are invested in minimizing such exposure. They stand to lose endorsements, contracts, sponsorships, and drops in enrollment rates as students and parents refuse to participate in an application process that has proven to be financially rigged. Private investigators can apply the same investigative methodology used in corporate investigations and apply it to university investigations. Undercover operations, surveillance operations, witness location, and evidence gathering are all services that private investigators use to expose misconduct within organizations, and universities are no exception. In addition to the crimes previously described, employee misconduct in university investigations such as fraud, embezzlement, bribery, admissions fraud, racism, and sexual harassment.

Hiring a private investigator adds an additional degree of integrity to university investigations. Because private investigators are independent of the university and law enforcement, their findings stand up to a higher degree of scrutiny at the conclusion of an investigation and in a court of law. Because private investigators are not bound by jurisdiction or by a chain of command, they are usually better equipped to push back against noncooperation in university investigations. The private investigators of Lauth Investigations International are staffed by former law enforcement and military personnel with diverse experience in applying investigative methods to complex situations in pursuit of truth for our clients. We provide comprehensive reports and expert recommendations.

If you need a private investigator for a university investigation, call Lauth Investigations International today at 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com.

Internal Investigation Teams vs. Private Investigators

Internal Investigation Teams vs. Private Investigators

Corporations Are Expanding Their Internal Teams…

Contextual events like the #MeToo movement and other public allegations of employee misconduct have many companies throughout the nation reevaluating their investigative needs when it comes to internal conflicts. Among those companies are powerhouses like Microsoft. On May 10, 2019, Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, announced new efforts to increase the size of its internal investigation teams in order to better address reports of employee misconduct and harassment.

Nadella reportedly said in a company-wide announcement, “I want people to point out my flaws.” This transparent statement of accountability is symptomatic of an accountable business culture, in which employees at all levels of involvement know there is a right way and a wrong way to handle an internal investigation. The head of Microsoft’s HR department, Kathleen Hogan, confirmed to Quartz that this initiative will focus on five areas of the company’s internal operations, including behavior, manager expectations, investigations, accountability, and data transparency. The team is growing from a 7-person team to a total of 23 people, with senior leadership involved in making instrumental changes in weekly meetings, with the caveat that this level of change “does take time.”

The expansion of Microsoft’s investigative team will ensure internal issues, such as sexual harassment allegations, and issues surrounding theft and fraud, will be examined in a more thorough, comprehensive manner. Any action on the part of management at the conclusion of these investigations will be the result of a more diverse set of eyes performing their due diligence. This will reduce the company’s total litigation costs that may result from a wrongful termination lawsuit based on a faulty investigation, as well as bolster the quality of a case when every step of an investigation is given the time and dedication it deserves.

For smaller companies, especially small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, the total cost to hire a fully equipped, comprehensive team of investigators may be more than they can handle. Microsoft, after all, generates billions of dollars in revenue every year, and has the financial capability to set these investigative measures in motion. So where does that leave smaller businesses?

While it can cost a company like Microsoft millions per year for a team dedicated solely to the supervision and investigation of internal issues, the cost to smaller businesses can remain in the tens of thousands when they seek the consultation of an external investigator, like a private detective, or another type of independent investigator. Having teams of professionals dedicated to a company’s internal crises may increase the quality of every investigation, but private investigators bring something invaluable to the table: unimpeachable integrity and objectivity.

After all, an internal team of investigators is still internal. Despite the quality of any investigation within a company, the respondent to any legal action can claim the business or corporation was not objective in their investigation, because the investigators had a stake in the outcome of the investigation as employees of that business. A private investigator’s independence and autonomy means their only loyalty is to the truth, and their findings will face a higher threshold of scrutiny in a court of law. Private investigators also make great witnesses, who can state in-person how their investigative methods lead them to their conclusion and assure the court that all avenues were explored when preparing their findings.

However, some companies learn too late that it’s prudent to hire a private investigator prior to the onset of a corporate crisis. An internal investigation can spin out of control fast, and the integrity of the case can be compromised. Companies bring in internal investigators after an incident has been reported, or long after attempts to resolve the issue internally have been exhausted.  In order to minimize costs to the company due to factors such risk oversight, poor business practices, and inefficient human resource operations, businesses should have an independent specialist like a private investigator evaluate a company’s preparedness for a range of common corporate crises.

If you have a corporate crisis and need solutions, Lauth Investigations International is the private investigation firm for you. Call 317-951-1100 today, or visit our services page for more information.

Surveillance cameras in public spaces are getting smarter…

CCTV Cameras in some major US cities are capturing private citizens’ faces in real-time.

Surveillance capitalism in the United States has been steadily evolving in the United States over the last ten years. Since the invention of social media and the rise of ubiquitous outdoor CCTV surveillance systems in major cities, private individuals are becoming more and more visible to anyone who knows where to look, and how to access the images. Now, the announcement that certain American cities are ostensibly planning to install real-time facial recognition software for their external CCTV systems has civil liberty groups in a uproar.

The “authoritarian potential,” as it was denoted in a recent article by WIRED, began in China, with many activist groups condemning the country’s use of facial recognition software to flag suspects who are caught on the cities’ external candid cameras. However, according to WIRED, Georgetown researchers released a report last week that cities like Chicago and Detroit have purchased this software for their CCTV surveillance systems. In addition to the fact that both cities deny current use of this software, there is no federal or state law that would prevent them from doing so.

The technology is innocuous enough. It’s the same technology that allows personal smart devices like iPhones, desktops, and laptops to have security protocol that prevents someone who is not the user from accessing the device. Image recognition software has been used by law enforcement for years to catch criminals, but experts are saying this level of sophistication in technology can create a troubling landscape in which a private individual’s anonymity in public spaces is threatened—experts like Evan Selinger, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, “Historically, we haven’t had to regulate privacy in public because it’s been too expensive for any entity to track our whereabouts.” With the rise of a surveillance capitalism, those days are over.

For civil liberty groups, the premise of this software being used to catch criminals does little to overshadow the specter of Big Brother hanging over them. Experts and activists alike call into question the accuracy of the software, and what effect any inaccuracies will have on persons of color and other private, non-suspect individuals who are minding their own business in a public square. They’ve also called attention to the use of such real-time facial recognition systems on police work, saying technological biases in biometric surveillance will lead to flawed investigations, and resources wasted on faulty leads generated by the systems. In one instance, actor Woody Harrelson’s image was uploaded into the system with the intention of identifying potential suspects who resemble him.

It is difficult to ignore the potential good a system like this could do in cases of missing persons or child abduction. CCTV footage is constantly being utilized by law enforcement to recreate a person’s movements in order to find answers—just recently, CCTV footage was used by Houston law enforcement to investigate the claims of a missing 4-year-old’s stepfather, who says she was kidnapped by two men after he was ambushed on the side of the road. He’s now being held on a $45,000 bond after the CCTV footage outside their Houston apartment directly contradicted his story.  

Despite the concerns surrounding this evolving real-time facial recognition technology, one thing is certain: Legislature at all levels of government must have an eye on this technology and its capabilities, bearing in mind that misappropriation could have disastrous consequences to private citizens who are innocent of any wrongdoing.  Without rules or regulations to dictate how the technology should be used, cities in the United States could become vulnerable to what has been denoted as a potentially authoritarian practice, eroding our privacy, and threatening our liberty.

Investigating Executives & White Collar Crime

Investigating Executives & White Collar Crime

Don’t let executive misconduct ruin your corporation…

When it comes to running a business, the executives who are the visionaries and decision-makers that shape a company should always remain above reproach. White collar crimes have the potential to pull a business up from the root with devastating consequences. Unfortunately, Americans know from media coverage and social media that there’s few things we are more attracted to than stories about high-ranking officials and the misconduct that negatively impacts their businesses—both in profits and in public relations.

Many will be familiar with the recent news of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ high-profile divorce following allegations of infidelity, in which his ex-wife became the richest individual in history by virtue of divorce proceedings. The fallout from executive misconduct can leave a trail of legal fees, government sanctions, violations, and public relations-related crises that can devastate a company from the top down.

Thought to be coined in 1932, the phrase “white collar crime” now refers to a spectrum of frauds and other crimes committed by high-ranking executives and officials. The most common characteristics of white collar crime contain aspects of deceit, concealment, or violation of company policies and/or state and federal law. The motive is financial, with executives skimming off the top of a company’s profits for their own use. These crimes are sometimes thought of as “victimless crimes,” with no regard to how the fallout from a fraud or scheme can impact the company, and therefore the families of its employees. The types of fraud include, but are not limited to:

  • Bank fraud
  • Blackmail
  • Bribery
  • Cellular phone fraud
  • Computer fraud
  • Counterfeiting
  • Credit card fraud
  • Currency scheme
  • Environmental schemes
  • Extortion
  • Forgery
  • Health Care Fraud
  • Insider trading
  • Insurance fraud
  • Investment schemes
  • Kickbacks
  • Larceny/theft
  • Money laundering
  • Racketeering
  • Securities fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Welfare fraud
  • Weights and measures

Corporate fraud and white collar crime of this nature remain one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s top priorities when it comes to identifying and indicating perpetrators. While involvement by government agencies may seem like the end of the line, there are ways companies can get out in front of executive misconduct by hiring a private investigator to investigate these matters.

Private investigators have a unique reputation as slick operators who fly under the radar, but they are invaluable professionals to companies in the throes of a corporate crisis because they are independent and objective. Objectivity is the priority when dealing with executive misconduct and white collar crime, as any allegations or evidence presented against the executive must be presented by an individual with no stake in the outcome of the investigation. Private investigators are independently contacted by a business or corporation to investigate the alleged executive misconduct, and can gather evidence and collect witness statements without the air of bias. Because private investigators are independent contractors, there is no fear of reprisal on behalf of coworkers and other employees at the company. This leaves no lead discounted or ignored. They can investigate employees at all levels, and determine how (if at all) the executive is receiving assistance in their fraud from subordinates. One of the most attractive qualities in a private investigator is that their objectivity makes them crucial witnesses in any legal proceedings that may result from the investigation.

Businesses and corporations should never be beholden to CEOs, presidents, and other high-ranking executives who behave badly. Executive misconduct and corruption are like aggressive weeds that must be pulled from the root in order for businesses to flourish. When it comes to rooting out bad leadership, consider hiring a private investigator to navigate a tricky investigative path that can end in quality operations and peace of mind for businesses large and small.

If you have a corporate crisis like executive misconduct, we can help. Call Lauth Investigations International, a family-owned-and-operated investigative firm with over 30 years of providing successful solutions to clients in Indianapolis and throughout the nation. Call 317-951-1100 for a free consultation, or to learn more about our services, please visit our website.

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

Investigating Non-Compete Violations

non-compete violationWhen growing a business, executives and owners have to go the extra mile when it comes to protecting trade secrets. In the pursuit of their company’s business, a common practice for corporations of all sizes is implementing non-compete clauses in their employees’ contracts. This ensures, should an employee leave the company for any reason, they cannot utilize trade secrets for the purpose of building a similar business of their own. It’s in a business owner’s best interest to be preemptive in protecting themselves from client poaching, theft of company secrets, and possibly even slander when it comes to current and former employees who violate their non-compete agreements.

Though they go by several names and the laws concerning them vary state to state, non-compete agreements are generally a legally-binding contract between an employer and an employee, whereupon acceptance of a job offer by a company, an individual agrees during their employment and following their termination they will not enter into any competing business for a predetermined period of time. Whether it’s working for a company’s top competitor, or striking out in their own business, non-compete agreements protect trade secrets, sensitive company information, and prevent competing businesses from poaching successful employees with promises of a handsome pay-raise in exchange for the expertise they might have gleaned from their time at their previous position. This kind of information can range from client bases to business operations to future products and services. The duration of the non-compete agreement following an employee’s termination have to be well within reason, as no employer can permanently preclude a former employee from any line of work.

Not every company experiences difficulties by virtue of a former employee violating their non-compete agreement, and some companies do not see the need for non-compete agreements at all, but the consequences of trade secrets being used to steal a company’s business can have devastating effects, ending in the worst possible circumstances with a business closing and an owner in debt. Even if a company is able to quash a non-compete violation in court, the cost to the company in legal fees can be astronomical, especially for smaller businesses. That’s why it’s important for owners and executives to be preemptive and proactive when it comes to potential violators. Luckily, a private investigator can help at all stages of a non-compete violation investigation.

Human resource employees are the salt of the earth, and can have a great influence on how a company develops based on the individuals they select for their workforce. However, human resource employees are not lie detectors, and do not always have access to legitimate, comprehensive background screening tools. Background screenings and checks are among the most common service associated with private investigators. If there is something suspect in a candidate’s past, licensed private investigators have the tools and experience to find it out. Private investigators can pull a candidate’s criminal history, financial history, and interview persons in their lives who can speak to character and work ethic. They can also spot patterns in a person’s work history or lifestyle that could be high-risk factors in a hypothetical non-compete violation—things like transience, long periods between positions, or financial destitution.

Some malingering employees can’t wait to be terminated before violating their non-compete agreements. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to exploit trade secrets for their businesses own gain while on company time and dime. While on a business trip, an individual might use company per diem to buy drinks for a person who could be a potential investor in their new business. Employees might use company supplies to supplement their project, such as printers, fax machines, computers, and other equipment. Private investigators can conduct diligent investigations within a company’s workforce to root out the source of the theft. Private investigators can interview witnesses, including upper management and other staff, review vital documents like bank records, and conduct surveillance of the company’s operations as needed to expose the perpetrator. Their objectivity makes them an ideal candidate to conduct such an investigation because they do not have a stake in the outcome.

There are many circumstances under which a business owner might come to suspect a former employee has violated their non-compete agreement. Word might have traveled through business circles that a similar business is starting up. Employees might start disappearing in clusters. Clients may suddenly decide to sever business ties in favor of a new contender in the competition. Whatever transpires, one thing is certain—documenting and exposing this exploitation is imperative, because the consequences can be costly. Retaining a qualified private investigator who specializes in corporate crises is crucial to resolving non-compete violations quickly, before the exponential costs begin to erode profits. Private investigators can perform surveillance on suspected former employees to document their movements, record with whom they met, and collect evidence such as pictures of a brick and mortar establishment, marketing materials, vital documents, and filings with the Secretary of State. Private investigators can send undercover operatives to infiltrate a workforce to get information the business privy only to employees. They can also enlist the aid of a confidential informant—an individual already within the company to provide information. This requires quality interviewing skills and developing a natural rapport with potential witnesses, both important qualities in a qualified investigator.

When non-compete violations are at their ugliest, not only do violators seek to siphon off their former employer’s business by exploiting trade secrets and knowledge of their operations, but they can also play dirty by exposing this information publicly. Another method involves deliberately spreading lies about the competition in order to drive business towards the former employee’s company. That’s known as slander and it’s legally actionable. Documenting the perpetuation of these lies and proving they are in fact false are crucial in these cases. Diligent fact-finding is the cornerstone of any private investigator’s expertise. Private investigators can conduct cyber investigations to track down the users behind profiles that post false negative reviews, follow rumors back to their roots, and forensically track how information left the competition and made its way into the former employee’s business nucleus. They can implement many of the strategies aforementioned: surveillance, interviewing witnesses, documenting evidence. Slander cases tend to have a divisive they-said, they-said narrative, which is where a private investigator’s objectivity becomes invaluable once more. Private investigators have no stake in the solution of an investigation. Their independence coupled with their expertise and resume make them spectacular witnesses in any subsequent litigation.

When a company has a non-compete agreement in place, it’s important that executives and owners are proactive when performing a risk assessment on a potential employee. It’s important that a healthy company culture fosters good comradery, honesty, and a policy of “if you see something, say something.” Building a case against a former employee who violated their agreement can be time consuming at the expense of company resources. Dealing with the fallout from litigation can bring a reliable business to its knees. Private investigators can assist in all phases of any non-compete agreement violation, and retaining their services will go a long way towards a body of objective evidence and testimony that can resolve a company’s crisis.

If you have suspicions that a current or former employee has violated their non-compete agreement, contact Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation on how we can help you! Call 317-955-1100 or find us online at www.lauthinvestigations.com. 

Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on investigations, missing person, and other topics in the criminal justice system.