Interview with Mr. Nino Perrotta
Founder of the Private Investigating Firm Sequoia Security Group
By Andrea McGauley
On Thursday, April 29th, I was able to conduct a Zoom interview with Mr. Nino Perrotta, founder of the Private Investigating Firm Sequoia Security Group. Mr. Perrotta has helped with a number of our divorce and custody cases, and generously offered some insight for prospective clients.
Does your firm specialize in Family Law or do you work in other areas as well?
+ We have a broader portfolio than Family Law but it is a large part of our work.
Did you know the firm would focus on Family Law or did it happen organically?
+ It naturally occurred because of the fact that I’m a boutique firm in the area. People tend to come with their personal problems and therefore we attract divorce matters or financial issues that are not ready for criminal attention from law enforcement. For example, someone will say, “hey, we have this very expensive item, whether it’s furniture or a vase or painting, and a family member stayed with us and were told to leave and now that item has disappeared with them.” So these questions came naturally with people saying, “oh you have a private investigative firm.” This is how things basically started to roll with us.
What kind of person usually goes into PI investigating?
+ The majority of my colleges are retired or former law enforcement. Not everybody has gone through a police academy, but the majority I would say are from that line of work originally. Like myself, I retired in 2018, and had a PI firm started up a few years prior to retirement so that I could be ready for it.
What then causes people to “switch” from law enforcement to private investigative work?
+ I took the approach of, I’m going to have a career in law enforcement, and not until later did I realize that I want to have my own business, my own firm, and with my credentials, move forward. A lot of people from law enforcement who open their own private investigative firm get a few years of experience and then they leave because it’s more financially beneficial. But that’s not always the case. For example, a lot of folks I know from New York will tend to complete their law enforcement career, get their pension, and then use this experience to engage defense attorneys or other colleagues. For example, they’ll say, “look, I want to do skip tracing.” Or maybe the law enforcement official, like myself, will have a financial crimes background and say, “could that be of great value to an organization like Z Family Law?” The answer is, most definitely, because a lot of times, in divorce matters at least, folks tend to hide their assets between each other so they can trick settlement to be a certain number. So basically this is what people end up doing. They either have a short term experience in law enforcement or they have a complete career and they just want to go into this business. And quite frankly, I hate the word “retirement” because it doesn’t really define your next phase in life. Even when you’ve done this career in law enforcement you have many more years of work you desire to do.
Are there many people who go straight into private investigative work?
+ Many of the great folks who get into private investigative work don’t have a law enforcement background. They’re very good at, maybe business, a business concept model. Or maybe their surveillance capabilities are creative. I think that a lot of people who get right into the business do so because they love that kind of work and they don’t necessarily want to do the work of law enforcement. Maybe they worked for a law firm and did process serving and they want to expand. So that’s what happens to folks. And it is harder to get licensed, you have to have a certain level of credentials. But I think security guard businesses have people who join and then learn other aspects of the business and say, “you know, I like this and I want to be my own owner.” But licensing is getting harder and I think that’s a good thing because more certifications and qualifications will end up being a better value added to law firms who are looking to hire for sensitive work they need done.
Do you always work through an attorney or do you ever work with individuals?
+ 99.9% of all my clients are with attorneys connected, I prefer it that way.
When you get a new case, how do you form a plan?
+ Each case has its own plan based on the circumstances provided. Most scenarios are clean cut. For example, you have a divorce and we want to know if the spouse is conducting themselves in another relationship. Therefore, you want to show intent. An investigative plan is then discussed with the attorney and once everything is approved and agreed upon, we engage in our activity. For example, if we have a matter where we may need to do surveillance, we’ll plan a time and place we think is best to start the surveillance and brief the attorneys as we go forward. That is the standard operating process on every matter that comes our way. Sometimes there are matters that require specialties that we don’t have and we’ll explain to the client how we can provide those resources. Then if it’s approved upon we’ll be the prime point of contact and manage the asset that comes in. For example, computer imaging, maybe there’s a laptop that needs to be analyzed. There’s a death in the family and a will is not clearly evident but the mourning widower may know there’s some notes on his laptop that is now unattainable because it’s locked. It can be something as simple as that. Another example is a call from a client the other day whose son passed away from natural causes but he suspects foul play and there was no investigation. But he has access and control of his son’s phone because his son was living in the house and he paid his phone bill. But it’s password protected so he asked us to look into by-passing the password. With the attorney’s cooperation, we’re working on that. So, each plan is derived from the initial consultations. There can be anywhere between one and three. Then the plan formulates as we go.
What happens if a spouse you wish to investigate crosses state lines?
+ There are some contingencies in various states that give you, I believe, up to two weeks to address the issue. But the way I operate is I do so much of the homework up front that we don’t put ourselves in that situation. Instead we address it by saying, look, there’s a probability that this person is going to go from Virginia to Tennessee, for example. And the state of Tennessee doesn’t have reciprocity so we can’t enter the state and do PI work. So we would engage our counterparts on the Tennessee border and have them prepared and ready to go in case we see the subject entering the state so we can continue our surveillance.
How deeply can a private investigator look into finances?
+ Using the example of a divorce case, if someone wants to know the spending habits of their spouse, anything under surveillance or that is legally available, we would do. There is also a process to search for bank records and finances through the attorney. Something that could be obtained legally would be from digging through trash, as long as it’s not on their property but on public domain. And a lot can be seen from surveillance, for example, he goes to Starbucks every morning, or every day Amazon packages show up. There are things you can deduct from the activities of these individuals. If you put 30 days on somebody you can get a pretty good idea of what people are up to.
Can you attach anything to someone’s car or track their phone?
+ There are devices you can place on vehicles, but you have to be careful. In Maryland, the easiest way is through a court order. Or if the person requesting the tracking is the owner of the vehicle and whoever is being tracked only uses the car. The lawyer is going to make the final judgement call on this. This is the same with phones. If your family member has a tracking device on their phone, they may not remember they’ve granted access to this. And if you’re the one who’s paying for the phone and it’s under your plan, you can monitor the tracking of activities legally. The problem is only if this isn’t your phone, then you need a court order. Also, you may be able to see text messages, but not actually the content without a court order.
Can you do background checks?
+ Yeah, open source background checks are done. They’re pretty comprehensive. We try to add, depending on what the request is. Let’s say you’re dating someone and are concerned, we’ll do a pretty good profile on the individual. And we can dial this up or down depending on the request.
What is the coolest gadget you get to work with?
+ The coolest gadget that I work with is a camera. I think taking pictures of people and capturing them in interesting scenarios in general.
What are the licensing requirements for private investigators?
+ They vary from state to state. In Maryland, they’re going to either require experience in law enforcement or an accreditation in private investigative work where you might have been an apprentice under someone’s supervision. The state of Maryland is pretty impressive in that they have a lot of requirements. It is not an easy process, you will have to go through a bunch of checks and balances. If you have law enforcement experience, it would take a minimum of about six months.
Who is your favorite/least favorite client to work with?
+ Favorite client is one who is emotionally stable. Least favorite is one who is not. Most people will tell you in our business that when you have a very emotionally upset person in front of you, they aren’t seeing this as a business practice at that point. That is the hardest. Those who want revenge or they believe CSI is really how things work. They just aren’t ready for me to do the job that I have to do.
As a family law PI, what is the most interesting day you’ve had?
+ This just happened recently. I got a call from a law firm and they had been trying to serve someone documents for about a month. And they’re panicking because their client is a very important client and they don’t want to tell them that they weren’t able to serve. So I get the call at about 1:30 in the afternoon and I pick up the documents just before 2:00. And within 30 minutes the documents were served. And the lawyer said to me, how did you do that? And I said, well, I texted the guy, I told him who I was, and he says, don’t bother, I’ll meet you first. And the attorney continues by saying, tell me what you wrote. So I explain that I said, well look, I’m going to spend the next three or four days around your house with a team of surveillance folks and we wanted to make sure that we didn’t bother you and your family. Is there any way I can just serve you the papers in person in confidence. And the guy was like, absolutely. So that’s kind of the best day because I made a lot of money in a very short period of time and got the job done ethically, completely clean and impressed the law firm which I think will bring me more business.
It is our hope that this interview can be helpful to current and prospective clients who may be interested in private investigation services. And I greatly thank Mr. Perrotta for lending his time to this interview, and his expertise to our firm.