Accusation Photo

This post discusses when federal prosecutors might initiate a criminal prosecution against private investigators and their clients as a consequence of an illegal asset search.  It is the 7th post in my series covering private investigators.

If you are a divorcing spouse; heir under a will; a creditor; etc., you may hire a private investigator to help you search for hidden assets.  Your private investigator might then try to detect assets/discover leads by reviewing: passports; phone records; bank account statements; credit card transactions; tax filings; or other confidential information.  What if your private investigator illegally obtained this confidential information from sources like law enforcement databases in the U.S. or by making illegal pretext calls in the U.S.?

Could federal prosecutors then accuse you of crimes because your private investigator performed this illegal asset search for you?  If you knew that confidential information was going to be illegally obtained, prosecutors might initiate a criminal prosecution against you.  The December 6, 2007 press release issued in U.S.A. vs. Torrella et. al. 3:07-cr-05775 discussed the significance of this element of knowledge.  The press release said that several private investigators had been accused of illegally obtaining confidential information.  The private investigators supposedly wanted “to uncover assets or income” during investigations they performed for their clients.  According to the press release, the U.S. Attorney indicated a willingness to criminally prosecute the clients if the clients knew the ‘information was obtained illegally’:

This indictment alleges that private investigators across the country illegally obtained confidential information and sold it to the clients who hired them,’ said United States Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan. ‘This is a very serious matter, the investigation is continuing and it is our intention to go after these ‘clients’ if we can prove that they knew this information was obtained illegally.’

In deciding whether to initiate criminal charges against you, federal prosecutors would also follow “the principle that, ordinarily, the attorney for the government should initiate or recommend Federal prosecution if he/she believes that the person’s conduct constitutes a Federal offense and that the admissible evidence probably will be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.”  U.S. Dep’t of Justice, United States Attorneys’ Manual 9-27.220 §B Comment (1997).

First Image: Jane0606/

Second image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Tsahi Levent-Levi

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams