The Cold Case
The fraud was many years ago. Fraudsters, victims and witnesses have moved on and have become difficult to locate. Clues are sparse. The statute of limitations is about to toll. Yet, a client wants you to investigate to determine if party X, Y or Z maybe liable. What is the approach?
The first is to hire investigative firms that are specialists in the subject matter. Hire A Financial Investigator if you are dealing with finance, or Aircraft Accident Investigator if you are dealing with aircraft accidents. Retain a specialist with a specialized knowledge so your expert will have the knowledge and tradecraft to uncover information that others will no doubt overlook.
Go for the low hanging fruit. Recover what legal filings are available, as well as exhibits, to find the names of witnesses and victims ‐‐ then locate them. Consider sending notices to all parties to preserve what records they have. This is dual edged sword. Some will do as instructed, and some will ensure everything is destroyed. It’s a decision the team should consider.
Recover pubic records where possible. Not all records will be available via the Internet. More often than not you will need to physically retrieve records, and you need to be prepared for this. If the records sought are no longer available, check for municipal archivists. While a department may indicate that records were destroyed, more than half of the time we can find “destroyed” records with the city, county, or state archivist. Look for ancillary records. For example, with property records if you can’t find the title information you’re looking for, look for those records generated by property owners. If ABC Co‐op owned the property of interest, go to the city and look for construction or renovation permits, check with the notary on the recorded documents, check with the trash department to see who was paying the bills, talk to neighbors, check with the police and fire departments to see if there were any calls for service during the time in question. You have to wear out some shoe leather ‐‐ this is not a desk problem.
Cold cases are not elegant forty‐five minute solutions as seen on TV. They require patience and a thoughtfully designed investigative process which assesses what can be done and what should be done given the resources of time and funds available. The first objective is to assemble facts. Once some of the facts begin dribbling in, the assembled team should develop several different hypothesis of how the facts fit into a congruent narrative, and then test and retest the hypothesis as new facts are discovered.
You will have one of three outcomes; you will have assembled enough information to initiate a cause of action, your facts rule out any cause of action, or you will run out of time and money.
All investigations are time and treasury sensitive, cold cases are just more sensitive. Cold case investigations are initiated when one or more of the victims or their representatives has an unresolved issues, aka a nagging question itching to be answered. They are willing to invest in the pursuit of an answer, but how much? If you find facts that support a cause of action they will, most likely, invest more money for a recovery. Thus, the facts need to be solid and presented as evidence worthy in as short a period of time as possible. If you find no cause of action or run out of time, they may be ridiculed for throwing good money after bad – they know that. Their hope is for a recovery ‐‐ their fear is another loss and ridicule. The investigator needs to be authentic in the retention process and let the potential client know that they, the investigator, is aware of the conundrum; crafting an effort with an insufficient budget or time will result in the worst of all outcomes. It assures that no recovery will be made and there will be no resolution to their nagging feeling that something was left on the table.