A transcript of the podcast follows:
Robb: Ladies and gentlemen, my guest today is Thomas Martin. After retiring as a federal agent, Mr. Martin formed Martin Investigative Services Incorporated in Newport Beach, California. He now oversees 22 private investigators who are also former federal agents of the DEA, FBI, IRS, and Secret Service. It was an interesting conversation. I think you’ll get something out of it. Let’s do it!
Female Announcer: From an undisclosed location somewhere on planet Earth. Here is your host Robb Jarrett. Three, two, one…
Robb: Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Tom Martin. Tom, how are you today?
Thomas: Doing great, Robb. Thanks for inviting me.
Robb: Yeah. So, I have looked through your press kit. My audience is not gonna really know who you are, Tom, so what I would like for you to do initially, I guess, is going through a bit of your story, your background, your journey, and how you got to be where you are today.
Thomas: Well, I took a little bit of a different journey through college. I ended up going to the seminary in California studying to be a diocese priest. After about four years of that, I decided that the worst place to decide if you should become a priest is probably the seminary. So, I went and visited my cousin in Patterson, New Jersey which was a fairly rough area in the 60s and I taught school there. I taught in Harlem. I taught at Patterson High School and a fairly naïve kid at the time. I had never had any drugs, no drinking, no smoking. Well, I got a rude awakening in the six months I was there. I decided maybe the best path for me was not becoming a priest but maybe getting into law enforcement and that’s what I did.
I came back to California. I applied to anybody and everybody: LAPD, LA Sheriffs, FBI, etcetera, etcetera. I was very fortunate to get accepted to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. From there, I had a great career of 12 years till I got hurt. I worked undercover for three years. I got into international training where I got to travel to 60 foreign countries teaching other law enforcement officers and doing some other work. I had a great job toward the end of the career as I ran the LA airport for the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration. That’s a job I would have done for free. That is nonstop action, 24/7, 365.
When I got hurt in ’81, my basic skill set was I was a fairly decent investigator having been trained by some of the best in the world and having had the opportunity to go to the academy there in the Department of Justice. I started Martin Investigative Services 40 years ago with no clients, no phones that worked (they certainly didn’t ring), and an empty Rolodex. Some of your listeners may not know what Rolodex is but I’ve still got the one. So, we just kind of plugged away. Made a lot of mistakes and got a couple of lucky breaks. As they say after 40 years, we’re almost an overnight success.
Robb: Fantastic. That’s beautiful. So, I have to jump into the first thing that jumped out at me about your press kit was the time that you had an interaction with Charles Manson.
Thomas: Oh, my goodness! Good old Charlie. Well, I got to meet – Meet is probably not the right word, but I got to be in the presence of Charlie on two occasions. When you’re a young agent, you’re trying to go out there and buy dope. The way you do that when you kind of look like a cop and before I grew long hair and a beard is you go to the jails and you meet some informants and try to get them to work. Well, one day I was in the jail and this is the second time that I had an interaction with Charlie. I think it was January of 1981, the sentence was about to be handed down. So, a buddy of mine got me to the courtroom. Usually, I stayed in the back because I obviously was armed at the time. I just wanted to see what was going on.
In this particular instance, there was one seat right in the front row. So, that’s where I sat down. Charlie had this habit of he would like to intimidate anybody and everybody (the judges, the bailiffs) and he was pretty good at it. He was a very small man, but he was pretty ominous in features. So, he would turn around rapidly in his chair and then look at somebody in the audience. Well, of course my lucky day it happened to be me. Here I am a young agent with – It was mano a mano. I’m sitting there with a gun and badge and credentials thinking I’m pretty hot stuff and Charlie gave me the evil eye about 10 feet away. So, I said, okay, we’ll play this game. I stayed in the game for about 15 seconds and I might be exaggerating a little bit there. Finally, I just said…I knew then at a very young age what evil was, more evil than [inaudible] [00:07:24] cartel dope peddlers, more evil than the Mexican mafia that we were chasing at the time.
Charlie won that contest but it’s something that stayed with me, the guy who couldn’t stare down Charlie Manson more than 10 seconds.
Robb: So, Tom, I would like to ask you what is the truth about private investigators? What is the truth and then what is the biggest misconception about a private investigator?
Thomas: Well, the biggest truth is that a good private investigator can change your life: be it in spiritually, physically, mentally, academically, and whatever genre you wanna go into. The biggest misconception I think, I would say it’s that everybody has this idea that we’re in a topcoat with a fedora smoking a pipe looking around a corner doing marital surveillances.
Thomas: So, if you take the top 10 private investigative agencies in the country, my guess is because I know most of those guys and gals, that their business is equally divided into four pillars and one of the pillars is the public. Of that pillar, about six percent of our business is marital surveillances. So, that’s big misconception is that all we do is marital surveillances because that’s what you hear on TV. That’s what you hear on Valentine’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday and all the rest of the time during the year. On the positive side, there are great private investigators in your area throughout the country that can help you change your life.
Robb: Does Hollywood do a good job of depicting the day in the life of a private investigator?
Thomas: Well, I always say when people ask me do I drive a Ferrari, do you have cases in Hawaii, do you have a nice mustache, and etcetera, etcetera. And I tell them my life over the last 40 years as a private investigator throughout the United States in all 50 states is more like Columbo than it is Magnum.
Thomas: The truth of it is, it’s very tedious. It can be very time consuming. You can be on a surveillance for example and be out there for 10 hours and then all of a sudden a person shows up or the bad guy who is faking his injury shows up. So, you sit there for 10 hours and your bathroom is a Folgers coffee can and all of a sudden he’s there. If you’re not on your A game, you miss them. So, it’s not like they depict on TV where we solve everything pretty quickly.
Robb: Yeah. What can you tell me about somebody that would hire a private investigator to find lost or disconnected friends or family?
Thomas: Great question. It’s probably the one thing that we do that’s the top of our list, especially now with the Corona virus. We were shocked. I mean, our business basically stopped on March 14th but as people got more in tune to what was happening at home more, they wanted to connect with friends and family and those people that they had become disconnected with and they wanna see how they’re doing with the virus. So, we’re fortunate. If you need to find somebody, there’s a website that we have that’s free and I can give that later and you can go on to that website and see all the sites that are on the internet to help you try to find somebody. I say that if you have a name, sometimes a date of birth or an age range, or something last known address (these are important things), and of course a social, then you can find almost 50 percent of the people you’re looking for free. You don’t have to hire a private investigator.
Now, if you’re having trouble, we’re a very transparent group. We charge $350 for that service and we have our own system called US Unite. But go to the website 888usunite.com and you can do it for free.
Robb: That’s awesome. That’s great stuff. Are you hired to do background searches on people? If so, what kind of information can you find out about that person?
Thomas: Well, you’ve obviously done your homework because number one on our list is locates and number two on our list of things that we do are background investigations. The backgrounds can be you’re gonna walk down the aisle with somebody, maybe you’d like to know about them. You’re thinking about investing with somebody, maybe you’d like to know about them.
Robb: Oh, yeah! Yeah.
Thomas: Or you’re gonna get a business done and maybe you’d like to know about Robb and does he have any track record of being in business. So, with our own system, it’s pretty amazing. The internet is okay for backgrounds. They have like a swimming pool full of information where some of the top investigators will have lie a Pacific Ocean. I wrote a blog about a year ago that was picked up by the USA Today when I said your cell number is now your new social security number. Because I can take Robb’s cellphone number or some of your listener’s cellphone numbers and I can tell you everything about you. I can get your date of birth. I can get your social. I can your relatives. I can get your finances. These are above board. Things like bankruptcies, notice of defaults, judgements, taxes, problems with the IRS. We can get into corporate records of limited partnerships. So, it’s staggering!
If I send somebody their own report…Like many people in corporate America will say well send me my report. What’s in the system? Sometimes they are 100 pages, 150 pages.
Thomas: Now, the problem with the cellphone is that we don’t do it, but the bad guys get your cellphone. Now, they can get in there and get your medical records, your taxes, your emails, your photos. Say you have a compromising photo with another person, or some girl decides that she’s down in Mexico and takes her top off and hoist a margarita. They will get calls from the bad guys that say I’m gonna put this all over the internet unless you send me $500. So, we recommend maybe two cellphones.
Robb: I have been fished with that scam and I know there’s nothing out there so I’m like let it fly, man. I’d love to see it myself because I know there’s nothing terrible.
Thomas: That’s when a group…You were part of a group, a collective group, that got your cell number, your area code and prefix and then they just download 10,000 numbers and hope to get a hit. And that’s great advice that you just gave your listeners. I mean, don’t call us up and ask us well do you think there’s anything out there? Well, I think you probably know.
Robb: Yeah, of course you know.
Thomas: Of course, you know! So, it’s just like Robb said, if that’s the case then say go ahead. Put out there whatever you’ve got to put out there.
Robb: Yeah, exactly. So, what is the single most decision a person makes when they’re going through a divorce? I saw this topic on your press kit, and I thought that was interesting.
Thomas: Well, this is a life-changing event, no question about it. It’s probably I have learned over the last 40 years the single most important piece of advice that I can give to our clients. Eighty percent of our clients are women whether it be marital surveillances that come to us in a divorce situation. Obviously, 20 percent are men. So, they’re very concerned about money, and their children, and their assets, and forensic accounting, and blah, blah, blah. I go, okay. Most people then say I need a top-notch private investigator and I say no, no. Here’s the single thing you need to concentrate on and number two isn’t even close. That is who you select as your lawyer. That will determine everything. That will determine all of the things we just talked about and then it’s gonna determine the life-changing decisions that you’re making in that divorce, how they come out.
The example I use in Orange County where our corporate office is based, there is almost 2,000 family law lawyers that do divorce etcetera. Of that group, if you don’t have one of 16, we’re not working for you because I don’t wanna take our work product, give it to them, and they don’t know what to do with it.
Thomas: So, it’s the club when you say one tenth of one percent is what I mean. You get one of those guys or gals and they’re well-respected in the courts. They’re well-respected by their peers and bottom line is we don’t lose too often, if ever.
Robb: Yeah. That’s really good advice. I would have never ever thought of that. Yeah. That’s good stuff.
Thomas: And one other thing for your listeners, Robb. Sorry for interjecting this. I think it’s really important. On that same podcast listener page that they can go to, we don’t want your email. We don’t collect them. You can go there for free. There is a list of 155 of the most asked questions in a divorce. This is a list that we’ve developed. Now, every question is not going to apply to every person, but I say get your iced tea or an adult beverage one night. Sit down with this free list. Take the marker and if it applies to you, assets, corporations, retirement, whatever the question is that if it applies to you. You only end up with a list of about 25 to 40 of the 155. Take those to your lawyers and you’ll be light years ahead of everybody that’s getting a divorce.
Robb: That’s great stuff. What are the chances a private investigator could figure out if someone is stealing of embezzling from me, especially in a business situation, I guess? Not so much at home but let’s say I’ve got a business partner and I have questions about them. I did not do the research before we went into business and I have concerns about the finances and their involvement in something nefarious.
Thomas: I would answer that by saying the single most important thing for a private investigator to have is not surveillance skills. It’s not how to handle maybe an informant. It’s not how to do divorces. The single most important thing is the art of interview and interrogation. So, corporations hire us to go in and find out if people are stealing three things: time, money, and products. Now, the vast majority of them are stealing time. So, all of our guys including myself have taught this genre at the Department of Justice, Treasury, and around the world. That’s how I picked my people over the years when I started to need people was were they selected to go back in.
Our biggest problem when we go into corporate America, our guys are so talented and our gals are so talented that we tell the HR person it’s not gonna be a question if they’re stealing or if we’re gonna be able to get them to admit it. It’s gonna be you’re gonna have a problem at the end of the day filling three or four jobs here. So, our guys will go in there and as we often say we give a little preamble and then even though they think they’re street smart, at the end of the day they’ll admit what they’ve done. Some of them as we jokingly say will admit to shooting Kennedy and they weren’t even born yet. You get the idea! And if you have that skillset…I mean, people talk. I sometimes don’t fit this, but some people talk, I wish I did, at about 125 words per minute. When I became a profiler for the Department of Justice, I learned that most people think at 1,000 or 1,200 words a minute.
Thomas: So, if you know that and then you have practiced the skillset for 10 or 12 years, which is takes a minimum 10 years, and then you ask a question of somebody, how they answer it I can tell within probably the first 12 to 15 seconds whether they’re lying almost a hundred percent of the time. How they answer and what they answer is very telling. It’s hard to beat good interviewing interrogators.
Robb: Yeah. All right. That’s great. What are the top signs that your spouse might be cheating on you? If someone comes to you and says I feel like there’s some infidelity in my relationship, what should I look for?
Thomas: Well, most of the times they know it. When a woman comes to us, we call it woman’s intuition. When a guy comes to us, we call it a gut reaction. Once again, the 20 signs that have kind of changed a little bit over the years – In my first book, If You Only Knew which is free on the website, that 20 have now kind of morphed into 20 new ones which is in the second book. So, I had my IT people and staff take those 20 and put them on that same page. They’re pretty basic, pretty common. All of a sudden now the guy is going to the gym or there’s extra grooming. Or your company is no longer wanted with your mate or they don’t want you coming to the office. There’s excessive overtime. One of the key ones is if your spouse comes home looking and smelling better than when they left in the morning, you’ve probably got a problem.
We tell people, look. Here’s the 20 signs. They’re very consistent. If you go through it with the old marker and you go, I think Robb did this and I think Mary Lou did that one and you’ve got one or two, let’s not have the panic time.
Thomas: If you’ve got four or five on there, you probably have a problem.
Robb: Yeah. As a private investigator, are you able to help out a family or somebody let’s say they’ve had a murder case that’s gone cold in their past? Are you able to go out and research that? How does that work? Do you have to work with law enforcement or are you just allowed to go out and investigate it on your own?
Thomas: The rule is, and it’s an internal rule in our office. We probably get about, up until March 14th, we probably got 25 to 40 requests a month.
Robb: No kidding? Wow!
Thomas: Yeah. There’s a lot. There’s thousands and thousands of unsolved. We’ve had some success over the past years. So, what we do is at the end of the day we take one out of 10 and that’s because we’re expensive and some people can’t afford it. Number two is that the evidence, the autopsy report, all the bloodwork and all that sort of thing, it’s so old that we don’t wanna take anybody’s money to try and do that. And then there has to be some kind of hook. We have to be able to say if I call a press conference and say Jim Bob’s brother was killed, well, nobody really cares. But they might care if that person was an astronaut or they were shot in a bar in a setting where they weren’t the person of target. So, we have to have something.
And then working with the police, we’re very well-known throughout the country. That’s who you want to hire, somebody in your area that you can sit down and look across that can walk into the police department with kind of their hat in their hand. They don’t have to have it crumpled up and buried but with their hat in their hand and understand is there anything that we shouldn’t do in this case that would hurt what you’re doing. I can guarantee you, Robb, the vast majority of the police departments from New York City to Miami to Seattle to San Diego all go, oh please! We have no overtime. We don’t have the manpower. We would love to have you come in and help us. Once again, hire somebody that has that interviewing and interrogation skillset. Don’t just hire somebody because they were in the news because they did a surveillance. A seasoned homicide investigator that has that skill would be great.
Robb: Yeah. I’ve heard this come up and I don’t know. I’m not asking you to be a lawyer or give any legal advice but how does the law handle recording of a conversation? Is it required that both parties know that that conversation is being recorded?
Thomas: Well, it all depends on what state you’re in. For example, if you’re in California, it’s a two-party state. So, if I call you up and I’m doing some type of subterfuge or I’m trying to run some angle to get some information from you and I’m recording that, I’ve gotta say, “Robb, I’m recording you.” Well, that would end that conversation pretty quickly. There are other states where it’s a one-party and you don’t have to report it. But most of the time your listeners should know that if they’re gonna hire somebody in their locale, make sure that they are not doing phone interviews. Make sure that they’re out face to face with the people because unless you can look them in the eye you really can’t tell if they’re guilty or not guilty.
Robb: Yeah. On that tangent, what is the policy about hidden cameras and finding out things about someone with a hidden camera?
Thomas: Well, it’s probably the biggest scam in the history of private investigations and it’s a not a very nice thing in our business. People will call up. They think that they have a monitoring device, or a camera hidden in their house or business. So, 90% of the private investigators, I’ve written about this, they don’t like to hear. That’s too bad. It’s true. Nobody has ever come back and challenged me, and the blog is out there. It says, 90% of the PIs doing this are fakers and pretenders who got a little magic wand from radio shack and they go out and they do a little dance in your house and pretend that they found stuff. You don’t wanna hire them. You’re better off doing nothing.
Of course, it’s illegal to plant any kind of device in any business or any house in city, county, or state in the United States. Now, what we call in our business, it’s called and electronic eavesdropping detection sweeps. The public knows it as bug sweeps. This is not an inexpensive proposition. It takes two days over three phases. Once again, being transparent if you’ve got a problem and your house is 3,000 feet or less and we’re in your area, you’re looking at about $5,800 to do that correctly.
Robb: Oh, okay.
Thomas: Then people say, what if you find something? What do we do? Well, we can leave it in and try to smoke the people out or we can take it out. Now, one thing no PI will tell your listeners, or at least I haven’t heard, and I think this is important. If we do a hundred sweeps, we find a bug 16% of the time. Of course, that’s the selling point now, right, for private investigators. Oh, we’ll find a bug in Robb’s house or in somebody’s house like Robb’s 16% of the time. Well, wait a minute! Let’s turn the tables and say 84% of the time we don’t find anything because there’s nothing there.
Thomas: And then I would caution your listeners, with all due respect, maybe you’re not important enough that somebody would spend $10,000 or $15,000 putting that kind of stuff in your house. Maybe just move on. Certainly, law enforcement does not. Maybe your husband has put a camera in your bedroom after he left but you can probably find it yourself.
Robb: Yeah. That’s probably true. All of the stuff I have seen, and I do some product development for people. They’ve sent me these spy cams. I’m like, this is not a very…It’s not camouflaged at all. It’s pretty obvious what it is. You know?
Thomas: Yeah, and they can be. You won’t find them generally. If you’re looking for a camera in the bedroom, that’s pretty easy. It’s either gonna be up in the fan or it’s gonna be in the cabinet or whatever armoire you have that’s facing the bed because guys are control freaks and they’re just trying to look and see what’s going on in the bedroom. Most of the time they can be hidden in microphones, and clocks, and photos, and pictures. We’ve found them in coffee pots, microwaves. It all depends on how technical they wanna get.
Robb: Yeah. Let’s say somebody needs to hire a PI. What is something they should ask this potential PI…What should they ask them to make sure that they are reputable?
Thomas: Well, a couple things you wanna start with is the first thing is you should ask them are they licensed. Now, over the last few years, every state has required…I think there might be one left. I think it might be Colorado. Let’s say, you don’t wanna hire anybody unless they have a license. They you wanna call in each of the states the Bureau of Security who licenses those people and/or visit their website and say is that person in good standing. Do they have any problems, any nicks against their license? Have they ever had any complaints? And then third, which I think is very important, is do they have an office where you can go to? Now, having an office …At the height of my when we were really cooking, we had five offices. Well, does that make me better than a guy who doesn’t have an office? Not really. But sometimes, especially with the public, you wanna have some sense if the wheels fall off where you can go.
You don’t meet these guys or gals in a gin mill and they only give you cash. They want cash only. You just get away from it. Those are the top three. And then go and meet that person. You’re gonna make pretty crazy decisions in your life whether to stay with your spouse. You’re following my teenage son, whatever the life situation throws at you. So, if you’re gonna make decisions that are gonna make your life and you smarter, or safer, or saner, then have a look directly across the table with the PI and you’ll size them up pretty quick whether they know their stuff or not.
Robb: Good stuff, Tom. That is what I had on my list. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?
Thomas: No. You were pretty thorough. I’ll give you that. You crossed it off and went down the list. It’s just that hopefully we bring some value to your listeners and maybe open up a little bit for somebody who had never thought of using a PI.
Robb: I’m certainly going to pass your information along with this podcast. The information will in the description of all the podcasts on the sites. What is the website that you would recommend somebody checking out?
Thomas: It’s very simple. Just go to martinpi. It’s M-A-R-T-I-N, P like private, I like investigator dot com. When you get there, you’ll see a normal website, but it will have a red arrow that says “podcast listeners”. Just click on that and you’ll see all the things we’ve talked about debugging devices, all 150 questions.
Robb: Fantastic. Great stuff! Tom, hang on with me here so we can get some files uploaded and I’m gonna sign off the recording process. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom and I are out!