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Private investigator sheds light on security measures in new book
By Joan Whitely
Private investigator Tom Martin is based in Southern California, but his work frequently brings him to Las Vegas.
“We get hired by people who get hurt coming in on I-15, or people who get hurt in the hotels,” said Martin, 50. Sometimes, he mentions, he is hired by the party who gets sued by a deceptive person just claiming to be hurt.
In short, Martin visits often enough to justify his family’s purchase of a second home here several years ago. But, Las Vegas is an old stomping ground, too.
From 1969 to 1972, Martin was assigned to Los Angeles as an agent for the U.S. Justice Department and conducted investigations of suspected drug dealers. Regularly, the people he monitored would go to Las Vegas for their transactions.
“The atmosphere (in Las Vegas) is conducive,” he explains. “People are relaxed, enjoying the entertainment.”
Sometimes, suspects seemed to conclude they would be less in the eye of law enforcement in Las Vegas than in California. In fact, hotel lobbies and casinos make for wonderful surveillance, according to Martin, because they provide distractions in the form of foot traffic, comfortable seating, plus an environment where a person sitting for an hour or two does not draw attention.
Describing himself in mock self-disparagement as a “guy who looks like a cop,” Martin eventually moved from street work into supervisory roles, training government personnel – in the United States and abroad – on drug interdiction techniques are airports.
But by the early ’80s, Martin confesses, the high-adrenalin work had lost some of its charm. “I’d got hurt about five or six times in arrest situations. I have a pin and screw in my left shoulder. My knee had been operated on six times.”
In 1981, Martin turned to the private sector, forming Martin Investigative Services, in Anaheim, Calif. He also is the author of a 1997 book, “If You Only Knew…,” a practical guide on security measures the average person can take to protect himself from such pitfalls as scam investments, negligent child care workers, an unfaithful spouse or employees with sticky fingers.
Interviewed in his house in Peccole Ranch, Martin first offers a few pointers on home security.
Yes, his house is in a gated community, but he tells people not to put too much stock in a mere gate. Even if access codes are periodically changed, or a guard is posted at the gate, gates are not impenetrable – as proved by the 1993 strong-arm kidnapping of Mirage Resorts Inc. Chairman Steve Wynn’s daughter, Kevin, from her home in gated Spanish Trail.
“You can ask any Domino’s pizza man for the gate code to any community. Focus on your own home,” says Martin. But, don’t sink a fortune into a security system with frivolous bells and whistles.
For example, a one-story home doesn’t need every window to be wired. At $50 to $75 per window, the tab will mushroom, when a less-costly system that relies strictly on interior motion detectors will do just as well, according to Martin. A homeowner doesn’t particularly need to know which entry a burglar used, only that a burglar is inside.
Strategically locate your security-system control panel. If there’s just one, install it near the entrance you use most – usually the door into the house from the garage. If there’s a second panel, put it in the master bedroom.
But all the security hardware in the world won’t amount to much if a nincompoop is monitoring your home system. Martin claims to have industry data indicating that, in most cases, when a home alarm goes off, a monitoring company’s first move is to phone the home in question to ask if it is a false alarm.
That response is inadequate, says Martin, practically snorting. If the owner’s away, no one will answer. If the owner is home during a break-in, the danger may escalate.
He bluntly recommends, after a consumer buys a security system, to deliberately set off the alarm: “See what happens. Does it work? And two, does Metro come? There’s no point in your spending a thousand dollars and thinking psychologically, you’re OK (when in reality you’re still vulnerable).”
In general, don’t let technology lull you into feeling safe. Martin gives the example of a woman who trusts too much in her little pepper-spray device – packed away in her purse – when she walks alone through a dark parking lot at night. “That’s unadulterated bunk that will get you killed. (Instead,) park your car right in a lighted area,” he admonishes.
Martin’s investigative work still takes him around the globe. On a business trip to Japan in 1995, he happened to be on a Tokyo subway at the time a domestic terrorism group set off several canisters of deadly sarin nerve gas.
“The guy I was supposed to meet (who was on another Tokyo subway car) was in the hospital 10 days,” he says of the close call.
After, Martin says he quickly left Japan because the media descended on him for his security analysis of the gas attack, but the U.S. embassy was requesting his silence.
But he’s willing to comment on the security implications of two recent news events that earned headlines worldwide.
Consider first the August death of Princess Diana in Paris. Her chauffeur was legally drunk, and speeding. The car was being pursued by voracious paparazzi.
The fatal car crash teaches several lessons, says Martin, whose firm also handles security for traveling dignitaries and celebrities.
“Dodi, give it a rest,” is how Martin dismisses the notion that Princess Diana and her companion that night, Dodi Fayed, should have tried to evade the photographers.
Instead, “Let’s call a press conference and tell them you’re going to the villa.” Martin proposes the media was less interested in obtaining shots of the princess in the car than of the couple at their destination.
“Then, pull the curtains and drive 30 (mph),” he adds. And, fasten your seat belts. Martin notes that many people who normally buckle up in a regular car tend not to when they’re in a luxurious limo.
And while you’re planning a smooth car ride for a celebrity, consider not using a limo. Limos themselves attract attention. Whenever Martin’s firm needs to ferry a public figure and doesn’t want publicity, it uses low-profile vehicle such as a Lincoln Town Car.
In the wake of Diana’s death, Martin says he has been deluged with requests from corporations for background checks on their drivers.
The drinking habit of the chauffeur involved, Henri Paul, although closeted, could have been foreseen by a thorough background check, Martin contends.
After Paul’s death, Paris media uncovered that he had lived alone in a run-down, shabby apartment, despite his relative status as a security executive at the hotel where the princess and Fayed ate their final meal. To Martin, Paul’s home suggests that man was a loner – not a good trait for the job, regardless of his drinking.
The other news event that intrigues Martin is the June “bite” fight between boxers Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Mainly, he worries about the spillover danger to the public when somebody in the ring or crowd acts up.
After the controversial match at the MGM Grand Hotel, a melee of departing fans caused confusion on its gaming floor and at the main entrance. Some thought shots had been fired, which turned out not to be true, according to police.
Other Las Vegas boxing weekends also have been made chaotic by unexpected factors such as the shooting death of fight fan and rapper Tupac Shakur, and the sudden appearance and landing of a solo pilot with a custom “flight machine” several years ago in the middle of an outdoor match at Caesars Palace.
Knowing also that some celebrity guests at the fights bring along untrained bodyguards, whom Martin calls “big thugs,” the security expert is rethinking his policies, uncertain he can continue to guarantee client safety at boxing matches. Better to reserve a suite at the hotel sponsoring the event, and watch the fight on closed circuit TV in private, he concludes.
Compared with most of corporate America – which he feels takes worker and client safety too lightly – Martin has high praise for the emphasis that Las Vegas hotels and casinos place on security: “a 9.9 on a scale of 10.”
Not all of Martin’s clientele are flamboyant stars, though. He takes many domestic-violence cases on a pro bono – no fee – basis.
He also takes pride in a computer database he is compiling to assist his investigators in background checks. It contains many types of information, including the Social Security Death Index, a listing of all the names and dates of people who have died in the United States since 1901.
To further beef up the database, he is the process of buying various government databases that are public record. Fifty-eight California counties, for example, have supplied him with either criminal or civil court records, or both.
“I can basically find people in the (Federal) witness protection program,” he says, touting the depth of the database.
From experience, he claims that the states of California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida give investigators the easiest access to government records. However, Nevada – like Massachusetts – is “one of the boogerest states” because it makes access difficult.
With one exception.
According to Martin, marriage-license bureaus in Nevada willingly accommodate all his requests.
And that’s a good thing, too.
Over the years, when Martin digs into the personal background of a client’s prospective mate, he has found men are more apt to “forget” a prior marriage if it took place in Nevada:
“They think, ‘Oh, it’s a Vegas thing. It doesn’t really count.’ ”