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.

The Perils of Pre-Employment Background Investigations

An employer is permitted by law to conduct a background investigation on any perspective employee (we’ll call them the “candidate”) and it has become almost standard practice now for employers to do so. However, please proceed with caution – the world of pre-employment background investigations is fraught with litigation, fines and regulation for non-compliance, for employers and the providers of these reports alike.

I’d like to share some thoughts on the process. I am not an attorney and the following information is not legal advice, just my thoughts and observations gained from 17 years of experience:

  1. All Pre-Employment Background Investigations are governed by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). A third-party, or outside screening agency that conducts pre-employment background investigations for an employer (such as Artus Group), is known as a Consumer Reporting Agency (CRA). The report provided by the outside screening agency is an Investigative Consumer Report (ICR, or for the purposes of this article, “investigative report”).
  1. No employer can ever commission an investigative report without the signed authorization of the candidate. Ever. Don’t even think about it.
  1. The authorization form provided to the candidate is very specific. Ours is currently nine pages long, so if your current form is a three-pager, you need to take counsel, and quickly. The authorization form, among other things:
  • Must advise the candidate of his or her rights under the FCRA, which are extensive.
  • Must provide state specific rights for candidates from California, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington.
  • May or may not inquire whether the candidate has been convicted of a crime, depending on jurisdiction.
  • Must offer candidates from California, Minnesota and Oklahoma the opportunity to request a copy of the investigative report, as entitled to them by law in those states.
  1. The FCRA strictly regulates what the CRA can and cannot report, and to complicate matters further, those restrictions are state specific. Generally (except in California, for example, but we’ll get to that) adverse public records (with the exception of criminal convictions) may only be reported by the CRA for up to seven years prior to the report date, ten years for bankruptcies. This is significant when you consider the dilemma faced by CRAs when severely adverse information pre-dating seven years is identified but cannot be reported. Think domestic violence restraining orders, civil fraud litigation, tax liens, licensing discipline etc. But the FCRA mandates that that information cannot be reported, and if so, violators are fined and regulated. The broad exception (other than California) is that if the candidate is expected to earn more than $75,000 per annum, there is no restriction on date reporting, which means that all historical records can be reported. This, quite rightly, was designed to allow a much deeper background check on senior executives.
  1. If the employer decides not to hire the candidate based on information in the investigative report provided by the CRA, called an “Adverse Hiring Decision”, the employer MUST provide the candidate a copy of the report and must adhere to the FCRA’s strict Adverse Hiring Procedure. Violating employers are fined and regulated and, very often, sued by the candidate. See my friend and Connecticut Employment Law Blogger Dan Schwartz’s column on this very matter at
  1. In California, not only is the reporting of all adverse records restricted to seven years, regardless of income, the CRA must mail a copy of the investigative report to the candidate within three days of its completion.
  1. Many facets of the FCRA remain vague however, and one wonders if that is deliberate in certain instances. In Connecticut, for example, a credit history report may only be included as a component in a pre-employment background investigation if the candidate has fiduciary responsibilities or supervisory responsibilities. However, Connecticut has failed to date to provide an accurate definition of either.
  1. In some states, the employer may only consider a criminal record if the nature of the conviction is applicable to the nature job the candidate would be doing. Hmmm, think about that for a moment.

Clients often ask if it’s worth doing a background check on an applicant. I provide the following thoughts:

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

Some thoughts on why:

  1. Example: If a company with three hundred employees hires a rotten egg, that person will not affect the operation as much as if a small company with three employees hires the same person. I believe it is critical for small businesses to conduct background investigations, even more so than for larger companies.
  1. Example: A company employs a salesman with two DUI’s on his record. He takes a client out for a Christmas lunch and has too many drinks. On his way home he hits and kills a pedestrian. Will his employer be sued if it knew about his DUI history? Probably.
  1. See my Case Study This was a very real case and our client is STILL paying the price.

My Opinion: If you conduct pre-employment background checks, regularly take counsel to ensure you are in compliance. Make sure your authorization forms are up to date, since the laws in each state change regularly. Ensure you follow the correct procedures if you decide to make an Adverse Hiring Decision as a result of the investigative report, and understand that your CRA is restricted as to what it can and cannot report. There are certainly perils in pre-employment background investigations, but they can be avoided through solid understanding of the FCRA.

View the FCRA at

Welcome to my Blog

I have so much to tell you, and so many resources to share.

In my 17 years as a private investigator, I have conducted thousands of investigations for approximately 140 different law firms, dozens of corporations, hedge funds, private equity firms and individuals. I’ve learned, and seen, so much. That’s why I started this blog. My goal is to provide a central source of information and resources for individuals and businesses, to share my experiences, and to help guide you through the investigative process.

I started Artus Group in 2004 and it has become the largest PI firm in Connecticut. But we are also a global firm now and if we can’t help you, I’m always happy to point you in the direction of those specialists or experts that can.

On the left hand side of this page you will find links to various resources for Connecticut public record information. These resources are all readily available, but I feel Connecticut has been lacking a central source for all this information. Please let me know if you have other resources you feel would add value for our visitors.

Below that is a feed to my Twitter account. I invite you to follow me, and I will Tweet whenever I post a new blog article or resource. To the right you will see the categories under which this blog will focus. I’ve always found value in sharing case studies as I believe in sharing our experiences of some of the more interesting cases we experience.

But more importantly, I want to share new information on changes in legislation, investigative resources, investigations in the news, information on specific areas of investigation that might help you in your investigation, and indeed, whether you need to hire a private investigator at all.

So, welcome to the Connecticut Private Investigator Blog – let’s investigate together.

Case Study: Surveillance

Mobile field surveillance consistently identifies theft, fraud, insurance fraud and domestic infidelities. Here are two of my favorites:

Surveillance Case Study 1:

A 64-year old female claimed she was paralyzed on her left side during a medical procedure and sued for $2.5 million. Continued surveillance revealed she rarely left her home and when she did, she shuffled along very slowly, with assistance, using a walking frame as she did so. One Saturday morning she joined her family in a visit to the local supermarket. Her daughter and granddaughter assisted her as she slowly edged her way from the car to the store. An Artus Group investigator entered the store to observe her activities. Nothing new – she continued along slowly as her daughter provided support. The daughter left her alone and went to another aisle, leaving the subject alone in the freezer aisle.

The subject then made an amazing recovery and Artus Group investigators obtained video as she opened a freezer door with her left hand, held the door open with her left leg, and leaned into the freezer with her left hand. She lifted and examined several items inside the freezer with her left hand and finally selected an item for her shopping cart.

This amazing recovery was seemingly short-lived: as she exited the store her paralysis returned and she was videotaped as she slowly shuffled back to the car with the assistance of her walking frame and doting family. The subsequent settlement negotiation had a slightly different outcome than she might have expected.

Surveillance Case Study 2:

A very wealthy client with a pre-nuptial agreement suspected her younger husband was having an affair with a woman from Philadelphia. Her husband, a former athlete, told his wife he was leaving for an amateur men’s basketball tournament in Denver. Of interest, we learned that his connecting flight was through Philly, with only a 45 minute layover. We suspected that the subject would either meet his girlfriend at the gate for the second leg, or he would exit Philadelphia airport and claim that he had missed the connection and would have to stay overnight. Or, maybe he was telling the truth and there was no girlfriend at all? This, as do all airport surveillances due to logistics, size and sheer volume of people, provided a very difficult scenario.

Artus Group booked one investigator on the flight to Philly; one at the gate in Philly to meet the subject; one at the Philly baggage claim; and one outside circling the arrivals level in his car. Two additional investigators were scheduled to pick up the subject as he arrived in Denver – again, one at baggage reclaim and one circling in his car (as you know, it is impossible now to remain parked in place immediately outside arrivals at any major airport). In a bizarre twist, our subject almost missed his flight to Philly, but as he rushed to the gate, the Artus Group investigator boarded just behind him (our investigator booked a seat near the front so he could be sure of exiting the plane before our subject – this is a critical component of aircraft surveillance).

As they landed in Philadelphia, the Artus Group investigator fell immediately behind the subject and then gave our Philly investigator “the nod” at the gate to provide the subject’s identity. The exterior investigators were alerted, but ultimately were not required. Our Philly investigator followed the subject to the gate for his pre-booked flight to Denver. There, the subject looked around expectantly, but as if from a scene in “Wuthering Heights”, his girlfriend arrived in full flight and they embraced and kissed at the gate. All was caught on video.

Our Philly investigator followed the subject and his companion onto the flight to Denver and sat in his pre-booked seat, again towards the front. Upon arrival at the gate, he repeated the “nod” to our Denver associates, who took it from there. The subject and his girlfriend were observed and videotaped as they rented a car and drove to a hotel, where they checked in, all caught on video. An undercover agent in the hotel lobby even videotaped as the subject made a phone call to his wife in Connecticut. He could be heard telling her that he had checked in and was just about to leave with the guys for practice.

This surveillance included seven investigators, immense planning and, to be honest, some luck. But the results became a huge component in providing our client with peace of mind, and some significant leverage in their pre-nup settlement.

Case Study: Due Diligence

Artus Group was assigned a due diligence investigation on a young U.S. software company, which was in its final stages of a $50 million private equity investment deal with commissions and bonuses presumably already calculated. The client expected a “rubber-stamp” due diligence investigation, however, certain adverse information gradually came to light.

The client was pushing for a final report as the date of the investment deal approached, but Artus Group investigators had an intuitive feeling, even though the public record and media was not necessarily adverse. The problem stemmed from the subject’s very common name – similar to ‘Robert Jones’, for example – and disseminating the thousands of possible public records was an enormous task. Of greater concern, however, was that Artus Group believed the subject’s father, of the same name, was an Australian metals mogul who had been convicted for bribing an Australian senator with prostitutes and money. Linking the father to the son (and if so, determining its possible relevance) was a daunting task, with a fast-approaching deadline.

Artus Group reviewed thousands of documents in an attempt to establish a link between the father and son. Finally, investigators identified a 1998 filing submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which listed an address for the father, that the son was known to have used between 1997 and 2001. Further inquiries revealed the father was a major private angel investor in his son’s US company, and the connection quickly caused the deal to unravel.

What became of this client? They must have been delighted, of course. This was not the case. The deal fell through, commissions and bonuses were lost, and both lead analysts were fired for their roles in letting the deal get so far and failing to adequately conduct their own due diligence.

Remember: An Artus Group due diligence is not a ‘rubber stamp’. Be prepared for all possible outcomes.

Case Study: Background Check

A pre-employment background investigation could have saved a client hundreds of thousands of dollars. The client hired a Vice President of Operations solely based on references. Twelve months after the employee was hired, he was offered an equity position in the company, which he accepted through a signed agreement. Later that month he was involved in an accident at a work site on company time, which went unobserved. He was granted a workers’ compensation leave, where he remained for over a year. He was receiving a six figure income and still had an equity stake in the company. The client became embroiled in costly litigation regarding this matter and spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees as a result.

The client requested a background investigation for the purposes of conducting the litigation. The background investigation of the employee revealed a Federal criminal record for attempted fraud, a previous workers’ compensation claim, one Federal bankruptcy and eighteen civil lawsuits related to non-payment of debt and contract disputes, three of which were related to former employers. The client remains in litigation which has cost the company significant resources, time and money. This would have been avoided if the client had conducted a pre-employment background investigation prior to hiring the individual.