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THOMAS G. MARTIN, Private investigator

Free-lance writer

The new haircut and polished shoes of today’s job applicant may be hiding a past of thievery and folly. Thomas G. Martin, founder of Martin Investigative Services, helps employers find that out before they hire. Martin is a former agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, whose company also finds missing persons, rids offices of electronic surveillance “bugs” and finds hidden assets of spouses in divorce cases. He spoke recently with free-lance writer Anne Michaud about digging into the past of a potential employee.

Q. If you were hiring someone, what would tip you off that you might want to have them investigated?

Incomplete filling out of an employment application. Many times, if someone has had drunk-driving accidents or speeding tickets, they will leave off a number from their driver’s license number--so it will be one number short. Or they will leave a number off their social security number so the employer can’t run a credit check.

Q. How far do you investigate?

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The key there is for the employer to look at the position that’s going to be filled. (For example,) if somebody is going to be driving a company car or a company truck, shame on you if you don’t check with the DMV and find their driving record.

Q. Do you need the person’s permission?

Not for motor vehicle records. Also, we buy microfiche records from the county to run a civil or criminal (court case) check. We don’t need permission to do that.

When we check the civil files, we are trying to determine whether the person has been a plaintiff or defendant in a divorce, a neighborhood dispute, a business dispute. Then, on the criminal side, we check to see if the person has been arrested. We can check both the superior and municipal court records.

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Q. Where else do you check?

We can check the statewide property index, which will show all the property somebody owns in the entire state of California.

We also check what is called the derogatory index. That will give you all the small-claims judgments, state tax liens, federal tax liens, civil judgments, bankruptcies and (loan) defaults.

We’re tied into the (California) secretary of state’s office, so we can get information about corporations from all over California: who the president is, the agent for service, the corporate number, when it was incorporated. We have access to fictitious business files and to the doing-business-as or DBA files.

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We have access to a social security number trace index. If we punch a social security number into our computer, it will tell us who is on record with that number, what their address is, their occupation and where they’re employed.

Q. What kinds of businesses hire you?

There’s not one type of business that leads the pack. We do some work with financial institutions, although a lot of them have started to do it in-house themselves. We have worked for pet stores, jewelry marts, computer companies, hotel chains, trucking companies and law offices.

Plus, we have a rock-solid base of attorneys who use us pretty consistently. Through them, we get hired by corporate America.

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Q. How much do businesses want to know about potential employees?

We try to work with each client. Generally, if they’re hiring somebody as a chief financial officer or a first vice president--a position of some authority--then I recommend we do a full background investigation.

We do all of our computer runs, check the microfiche, develop references other than the ones they list. We talk to neighbors and try to get a good, solid package on this person.

For nannies or live-ins, we do a full background check. Six months ago, we did a check for a couple, and it led to the discovery of a group of girls posing as live-ins. They would stay at the house for a week, then after they had gotten the credit-card numbers or the cards themselves, they would run up thousands of dollars (of credit-card charges) before the clients even had a clue.

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Q. Do you ever interview the potential employee yourself?

Sometimes the employer will have us interview. After 20 years of doing investigations, I can separate the chalk from the cheese pretty easily.

I can tell when a person is saying one thing and trying to hide another.

When they know they’re being interviewed by a former federal agent, it’s amazing the things they’ll tell us.

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On a (written) application to work as a bank teller, say, they’ll put that they’ve never been arrested. Then you tell them you’re doing a background check, and they’ll tell you they’ve been arrested for shoplifting.

Generally, we save the business community here a lot of money.

Q. Do you always know when people are lying to you?

Oh, no. I’ve had people tell me things, I have believed them, and later I’ve found out it was a bald-faced lie.

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One of my techniques is to ask them questions to which I know the answers. I ask 10 questions, and if the answers are correct, I can be pretty sure that their other answers are good--answers to questions I didn’t have the answers for.

Q. Is it fair to fail to hire someone because he or she has missed some MasterCard payments?

We certainly would not use one particular non-payment to knock you out of a particular job. Certainly, if you had seven or eight entries on your credit report, we might.

This does not say that this is somebody who should not be gainfully employed, but would I put them around money? Would I put them around jewelry? No. Would I put the fox in the hen house?

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Also, I’m not against picking up the phone and asking the person, ‘Can you clear this up for me?’ Oftentimes they clear it up (by giving a good reason for the debt problems). Sometimes they just say, ‘I’ve got major problems.’

On when to be suspicious. . . .

“If they say no to a polygraph test or a drug test, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see you might have a bad apple on your hands.”

On the cost of workers with a drug problem. . . .

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“The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimated that Orange County’s loss of productivity in the workplace last year was $1.2 billion due to drug abuse.”

On the cost of an investigation. . . .

“Companies that want an extensive background check--that can cost $1,500. With talking to their references and all, a full check can be 30 to 40 hours’ work.”

On choosing a private investigator. . . .

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“There are over 594 investigators in Orange County alone. How many of those could find City Hall, I don’t know. People should call the licensing bureau at (916) 445-7366.”


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