Rob Artus Featured In Single Process Video Series

As promised, my appearance on the much anticipated Single Process video series is featured below. This is a terrific project and I am honored to have been one of the interviewees.

Single Process is an insightful collection of interviews conducted by Barb Hazelton and Jo Briggs with top experts in every area of divorce.  In this first interview, I discuss the finer points of what to consider when hiring a private investigator, including communicating through your attorney, what evidence is admissible in court, and identifying assets. Barb and Jo had some excellent questions regarding the process and I also share a few interesting stories from my experience.

In my second interview with the ladies, we delve into the topic of infidelity, obviously a major point of interest when discussing divorce. We talk about what it means to be in a “No Fault” state, such as Connecticut, how social media has revolutionized investigating infidelity, and the art of surveillance. Again, I offer up some cases from my experience that had Barb and Jo on the edge of their seat.

I can’t thank Barb Hazelton, Jo Briggs and the entire Single Process team enough for inviting me to be a part of their video series and we hope you find these interviews entertaining and informative.

Rob Artus Featured in Divorce Podcast

Yesterday we began filming on a new project by SingleProcess regarding divorce in Connecticut. This is an exciting new podcast project being put together by Barb Hazelton and Jo Briggs, who are amazing, which will focus on all aspects of divorce. I provided the PI piece and judging by the top-level attorneys and other experts they are interviewing, it will be a very worthwhile project. So, watch this space and I’ll let you know when the podcast is ready!

Everything you need to know about Connecticut Criminal Records

Ok – here are your alternatives for getting the information you need:

In Connecticut, criminal history records, that is, convictions, are administered and reported by the Connecticut State Police. Anyone can request a criminal history record on anyone else for any reason by downloading this form and mailing it to the Connecticut State Police in Middletown with a check for $50.00 – results are mailed to you within 7-14 days.

Alternatively, you can research limited online records of criminal convictions through records of the Connecticut Judicial Branch. These records are extremely limited, are purged, and are only a fraction of the actual records that exist. Records of pending criminal cases however are thoroughly reported by the Connecticut Judicial Branch and can be searched here.

Assuming you want something far deeper than the Connecticut Judicial Branch can offer online and you need results much quicker than reported by the Connecticut State Police, contact Artus Group – we have complete, unpurged criminal history records of the Connecticut State Police dating back to the early 1970’s. We also have access to real-time Connecticut DOC inmate mugshots, traffic tickets and just about every Connecticut public record available.

Ok so once you’ve identified a Connecticut criminal record, how do you find out about the specifics of the case?

In Connecticut, criminal case files are handled quite specifically. Soon after a disposition is entered, the case file is shipped to the Connecticut Records Center located at the Enfield Superior Court. Don’t even think of going to a Connecticut court to review an old criminal case file, it will only be in Enfield, if anywhere. At Enfield, case files are maintained for defined periods and then destroyed as follows:

  • Nolle/Dismissed cases are destroyed after 3 years
  • Infractions are destroyed after 5 years
  • Motor vehicle misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
  • Criminal misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
  • Criminal felonies are destroyed after 20 years or length of sentence, whichever is longer
  • Youthful Offender cases are destroyed after 10 years

You can personally travel to Enfield to request and review the file but then you will have to return at a later date to obtain copies. Alternatively Artus Group can request and obtain the file for you – we are at the Enfield Court routinely and understand their system and process. When reviewing archived criminal case files however, don’t expect to find much content. Case files are routinely stripped to bare bones for archiving and you often will not find police reports or many details beyond the court docket.

If you need police reports on a specific incident, you can personally visit the relevant police department and submit a written request and then wait to return at a later date to retrieve results, which are often redacted. Alternatively again, contact us – our investigators are in and out of police departments all the time and we know the drill.

You can look up current inmates incarcerated in Connecticut state prisons through records of the Connecticut Department of Correction, however, records are for current inmates only, not former inmates. At the federal level however, inmates can be searched nationally and historically through records of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Sex Offenders can be searched through records of the Connecticut Sex Offender Registry, by name, address or proximity.

Rob Artus Quoted in Connecticut Law Tribune Article

This week I was quoted in an article published in the Connecticut Law Tribune entitled “Digital Evidence Outmodes Physical Evidence in Divorce Cases”. One is never usually thrilled with the quotes selected (of all the great material provided!), but as they say, any publicity is better than no publicity at all.

The premise of the piece was that certain lawyers were suggesting private investigators are not as necessary as they once were in divorce cases thanks to electronic information and social media etc. “Private detectives are mostly gone. Computer techs are the new experts,” said one.

Wow, am I glad that’s not true!

We conduct a ton of high-level family investigations with a focus in Fairfield County, and I am glad to say that nothing could be further than the truth – we, and my colleagues who are high-quality investigators, are busier than ever. And we work with most of the big family law firms.

Sure, some affairs can be discovered more easily due to texts, emails and messages retrieved from phones and computers, but this does not affect all the other, highly critical work necessary in family cases, the bulk of which are custody and cohabitation cases, asset investigations and, yes, identifying affairs.

“From tracking devices to social media, there is a significant decrease in the need to hire a PI”, said another attorney, adding “Sometimes a person’s own conduct on social media is the best evidence of their judgment.” Wow! Sure, social media is a component in 100% of every investigation we do, and we use tracking devices when legally allowed to do so. But to think that PI’s are going away because of those two components is naïve. Technology and social media are certainly important components, but they are just part of the equation in family cases that are almost always complex projects with a lot of moving parts.

While I’m happy for the exposure, of course only a few of the items I contributed were published, so here’s a full summary of what I provided to the Connecticut Law Tribune: I couldn’t have said it better myself…

From our perspective, electronic information is only enhancing our work, not reducing it. The idea that conventional PI work is dwindling, I’m thankful to say, is just not true – in fact, ubiquitous electronic data actually guarantees that there is even more need than ever for the skilled investigator. Of course, public and commercial databases contain more and more information, from both a depth and jurisdictional perspective, but it is the skill of the investigator that is required to plough through the data and determine what information involves our subject and what does not. Remember: databases don’t think, they just link – it’s up to us more than ever to determine what information is pertinent and what can be eliminated. But that’s only just the beginning: The mobile surveillance industry is stronger than ever and attorneys show no signs of slowing down in their need to understand the daily activities of plaintiffs; court case documents still have to be pulled and reviewed onsite at courthouses; driver’s histories for litigation cases can still only be obtained onsite at Connecticut DMV in Wethersfield; subpoenas still have to be served in person; cohabitation activity checks still require an ongoing physical presence; cameras still require physical installation; electronic sweeps can only be conducted onsite by trained experts; effective forensic handwriting analysis requires an expert with dozens of years of experience; tough locates still often require knocking on doors and neighborhood inquiries; and interviews can only be effectively conducted in person, as absolutely no one will talk freely over the phone anymore thanks to telemarketers and scams.

Physical, mobile surveillance is a routine component for many family attorneys, however, electronic surveillance through GPS tracking devices is illegal unless you own the vehicle on which they are placed. Any such information would be illegally obtained and, more importantly, inadmissible. We use social media in just about every case now, but information can only be legally gathered from the public portions of social media accounts, otherwise again, the information gained would be inadmissible. Accessing metadata from phones through geo-fences and the like depends on a subject keeping their location services on and active, which most people of interest don’t. Either way, knowing where they physically are still doesn’t tell you what they’re doing.

It is the very fact that electronic information is so readily available that real, skilled, actual investigators are needed even more than ever. Our litigation work is booming and thankfully, from my perspective, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Preparation and Patience: The Reality of Family Investigations

Up until about eight years ago, I shied away from handling divorce, matrimonial, custody and infidelity cases (which I will collectively refer to as “family” investigations), since I had presumed they were messy. The corporate world was so much “cleaner”.

Then one of our corporate clients asked me to become involved in a very difficult family situation. I knew that many in our industry were not comfortable handling family matters since: a) there is too much emotion involved, and; b) the results can be bad news – and no one wants to muddy a strong corporate relationship with a messy, emotional family matter.

And boy, they were absolutely right!

But what I learned in the process is just how valuable the information, if gathered responsibly, can be. Fast forward eight years, and providing high-end family investigative services has become a staple part of our business. But it takes great care, preparation, experience and patience to do well, so I’d like to take some time to share my thoughts on some aspects of our family work which I hope will provide value:

Custody

It may surprise you, but custody issues account for over half of all family investigations we handle. Many clients have safety concerns regarding mom’s new boyfriend or dad’s new girlfriend, and rightfully so. In shared parenting relationships, parents want to know who their children are spending time with and we routinely provide detailed background checks on new spousal partners. As you can imagine, a history of drugs, violence, prostitution, gambling, alcohol or financial issues is a very real concern for parents of children who will be around new partners. A solid background check can put their fears to rest, or as in many cases we’ve had, allow them to petition the court with the information they need to help ensure a safe environment for their children.

Some parents have real and genuine concerns about their children’s activities while they are with the other parent and we often conduct discreet surveillance to observe those activities. We’ve seen very young children left unattended for long periods each night, including one woman who left her three children, all under the age of ten, alone while she spent several hours every night satisfying a $5,000-a-week scratch off lottery ticket addiction. That one surprised even me.

Cohabitation

Under the terms of dissolution, there is often a cohabitation agreement in which alimony or other payments are dependent on the recipient living alone, that is, without a live-in partner. We have conducted dozens of cohabitation investigations and proving cohabitation all boils down to the threshold the attorney feels is sufficient to go to bat. That is, it’s not up to you or me.

For example, one attorney may feel that three consecutive nights of cohabitation is sufficient to prove cohabitation, while another may feel that nothing less than five nights of any consecutive seven is sufficient. We had one case where a male friend stayed over every Monday and Thursday, and on Saturdays when the ex-wife did not have the children. Is that cohabitation? Point is, it all depends on the attorney’s threshold, not my opinion or yours.

We generally use vehicles to prove cohabitation, with additional surveillance to provide evidentiary support. That is, if a subject’s vehicle is present at an address at 10:00 pm and then is still there at 6:00 am, then he or she is generally deemed to have stayed overnight. Subsequent surveillance video on one or more of those mornings showing the subject entering his vehicle and departing the residence provides the evidentiary support. One major obstacle of course is when the layout or a long driveway, tall trees, or other obstructions prevent being able to view vehicles from the public domain. In those cases, proving cohabitation does not become impossible, it just becomes more time consuming, as longer term surveillance is required on each evening and morning, rather than just activity checks.

Infidelity

We’ve followed subjects through towns, cities and states, on trains, highways and planes. Successful infidelity surveillance involves extensive preparation, intensive coverage, hard work and usually a deep budget. Anything less and it’s amateur hour, so beware.

Pornography and Casual Encounters

One of the more distressing components of modern life is the ubiquitous availability of free pornography and casual sexual encounters through free and subscription websites and databases. The ability to view pornography and to arrange a sex meeting on a phone within minutes is a curse of society which is tearing relationships apart. Each situation is different and our investigation may involve computer or phone forensics, surveillance, undercover stings and/or other research. We are familiar with them all and we understand the distress and uncertainty this problem can bring to a relationship.

The above topics are by no means the extent of family matters we investigate. We identify hidden assets; conduct fraud investigations involving family and other caregivers for the elderly; conduct computer, DNA and handwriting analysis; investigate theft of intellectual property; research property disputes – you name it, it all happens between spouses and family. But if you have a sensitive family issue I do have some advice:

  1. Get several opinions regarding investigative strategy – a financial investigator wants to follow the money; a computer investigator wants to analyze the computers; and a surveillance expert wants to follow. Sometimes you need all three, but get different investigative perspectives before initiating any investigation.
  1. Never work outside of your attorney’s direction and always let him or her lead the charge. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to gather information yourself, or to obtain it from an unknown source. Information and the way it is gathered can hurt you and your case.

Family investigations are, by definition, difficult, emotional and time consuming, and they need to be handled with care and sensitivity. But I’m glad I became involved with family work years ago and if you want to get my opinion on your situation, please give me a call – I get it now.

Self-Background Checks: The Truth Will Set You Free

Over the last ten years or so, I have been approached by numerous individuals requesting a background check on themselves, that is, a “self-background” check. Those individuals have included lawyers being considered for jobs and committees, senior executives under consideration for board membership, regular folk in the process of a job application, and in one case, a public figure who was under consideration as a spokeswoman for a company.

In each case, they wanted to know what “was out there”, that is, what a typical background investigation might uncover. Years ago I might have conducted a full background check, but now I just cut to the chase. “Ok, what did you do, where, and when”, I more typically ask. The very nature of a person wanting a self-background suggests that they want to know if some event or public record will show up in a background investigation and, more importantly, should they disclose it in their application/vetting process. And it seems to always be an arrest.

If a criminal case is expunged, is the person obligated to disclose it? Absolutely not, in a pre-employment background environment. However the disclosure paperwork I have seen for many committees, boards, organizations and companies (in a non-employment environment) ask the more broad question, “have you ever been arrested”. Although of course not in compliance with the FCRA, which governs pre-employment background investigations, many organizations still ask the question. The issue is, what will be uncovered, and how should you answer?

Let’s look at how records are collected. In Connecticut, New York and Florida, for example, a criminal case is litigated and recorded at the court level and then if convicted, is reported as a conviction by the appropriate state agency in each state (in this example, the Connecticut State Police, the New York Unified Court System and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement). The courts also maintain a record of the case and its disposition. If a case is ultimately expunged, the court SHOULD delete the record and report it as “not a public record”. Similarly, the state agency SHOULD also remove the record from its databases.

However in the interim period, commercial databases troll the court websites and state agencies to gather case information on a daily basis and in many states, state agency information is also sold to the commercial databases. So, if a case is expunged or dismissed, the courts delete the records, the state agency delete the records, but the record still lingers in the national commercial databases. And is most often not removed. Similarly, there is often media coverage in police blotters and local newspapers which are also online and which also do not go away.

Similarly, many states do not report DUI’s as criminal records, rather, they can only be identified through research of Drivers’ History records. So while you may not have a reported criminal record for a DUI, or you fulfilled the obligation of the court through accelerated rehabilitation or similar, DMV still reports the conviction, the suspension and license reinstatement. They don’t care that the court record was removed, rather, DMV merely reports the facts, that is: suspension, reason, points, and license reinstatement. Those records are routinely removed from a driver’s history after a period of time (ten years in Connecticut).

In every case in which I have completed a self-background check, the subject is amazed that the record can still be found, as they were assured by lawyers or the court that the record would “go away”. On the contrary, I cease to be amazed how readily these records are located.

So what do you do, how do you answer? I am not an attorney and this should in no way be construed as legal advice, but I can tell you that the acknowledgment of a youthful indiscretion is far less significant in the vetting process than doubt of your current veracity. The searching entity may never find the information, depending on the quality of the firm they select to conduct the actual investigation, but there’s always the chance that it may be found.

To that end, in each case, I have shown the client how easily accessible the information is, and in each case have encouraged them to disclose the matter. Technology and databases are wonderful things, but they have very, very long memories. If still in doubt, give me a call and we’ll see what we can find.

Connecticut Criminal and Civil Court Case Files: What can we hope to find?

As a nationwide company, our people are in courts literally all around the country every week. In my 17 years of doing this, there are only a few things of which I’m certain, and one is that every state, every county and almost every court in the nation seemingly has a different procedure. Some clerks are helpful, some are downright rude. Some offices are extremely organized and others are a total mess – it’s a wonder how they can find anything at all (they often can’t).

But in Connecticut, we are fortunate, for the most part, to have some very organized clerks’ offices with mostly very helpful clerks. Although general procedures are somewhat consistent statewide, there are many idiosyncrasies. I’m often asked what we can expect to find, so I thought I’d pen some thoughts for reference. Did you know, for example:

  • In Connecticut, divorce case files are held at the court for 75 years…that’s a long time, but was enacted since people often need to provide proof of divorce throughout their lives, for a number of reasons.
  • Routinely, only divorce files in which there was a dissolution are maintained – cases in which there was no judgment are destroyed, although the period of retention varies from court to court.
  • In Connecticut, almost all divorce and civil case files are available for public review, for any reason, and by any person, mostly without providing any form of identity. The only exceptions are in cases where the judge has sealed the file. This is rare, but is routine in the case of celebrities, politicians or other prominent persons.
  • Connecticut procedure is in stark contrast to New York, for example, where ALL family (including divorce) case files are sealed and not available for public review.
  • Certain components of divorce files ARE sealed in Connecticut, primarily financial affidavits, although these are routinely unsealed after dissolution. Sealed documents in Connecticut case files are placed in bright blue folders and are usually attached to the inside front cover of the file. The clerks should remove them before handing you the file, but often do not. Don’t be tempted to take a peak though, they are sealed for a reason.
  • For most civil cases in which there was a judgment or disposition, case files are maintained for several years (although retention dates vary between the courts and the nature of the case). However case files that are “Withdrawn” are destroyed one year after the date of withdrawal, almost without exception, statewide. Similarly, dormant (inactive) case files enter the Dormancy Program and are destroyed one year after the last activity, again, almost without exception.
  • In Connecticut, criminal case files are handled quite differently. Soon after a disposition is entered, the case file is shipped to the Connecticut Records Center located at the Enfield Superior Court. Don’t even think of going to a court to review an old criminal case file, it will only be in Enfield, if anywhere. At Enfield, case files are maintained for defined periods and then destroyed as follows:

– Nolle/Dismissals are destroyed after 3 years
– Infractions are destroyed after 5 years
– Motor vehicle misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
– Criminal misdemeanors are destroyed after 10 years
– Criminal felonies are destroyed after 20 years or length of sentence, whichever is longer
– Youthful Offender cases are destroyed after 10 years

  • When reviewing archived criminal case files, don’t expect to find much content. They are routinely stripped to bare bones for archiving and you often will not find police reports or details beyond the court docket. Police reports and police departments in general are a more complex subject…for another blog post maybe!

Connecticut is somewhat unique in the way it handles, maintains and destroys criminal and civil case files. We’re in the courts every week and we know the system – If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me.