Attorney Heffernan talks about Private Investigation with David Wasser of the Wasser Agency
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First off, let’s kill all the lawyers. I’m David Heffernan and I’m a practicing lawyer in South Florida for about the last 30 years or so. And we put this together just because it’s one of my favorite Shakespeare quotes and often gets misconstrued going back to the 1500s. But the one thing about that line is it got a lot of laughs when when it was uttered back in the 1500s. And even today, people kind of go, it’s not a bad idea to get rid of some of those lawyers. So go here, bring other lawyers in bring other people to work with lawyers in kind of talk about the business end of things, and personalized some of it, and maybe one by one, take a few lawyers off the kill list. But I made it easy this morning, because I didn’t bring a lawyer in. I’m very privileged. Only because I’ve known this guy is a very, very close personal friend for the vast majority of my life, but also been an integral part of my law practice, as I’d like to introduce Dave watcher of the watcher agency, one of I think, one of the top private investigators, not only in town, I mean, nationally, you’ve done a lot and everything else. But I’ve had a lot of fun. Getting to know you over the years, but more importantly in the practice of things, you know, really working hand in hand with you on a lot of cases. So first off, welcome. Well, thank you. nice introduction. Well, thank you. Well, you know, the thing is, and I was thinking about this as we came over. I actually go back with you so far that this was before I was in law school, and I was actually working for you. When I made the decision to go to law school, undercover I was I was doing some undercover work for some paper company. We were I was up in singer Island and we you hired me and and I rented a car and we got the route. So these paper trucks, and they would periodically follow these guys to find out who was you know, going home during during lunch hours or who wasn’t dropping things off here and literally running on the beach one night, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. You know, I bounced around the NFL for a little bit. And that’s when I came to the decision to go to law school. So yeah, you You make me do grunt work like that forced me to go to law school and get a real job. It was it was all good. But let’s talk a little bit. Okay, you started out years ago in the public defender’s office. So how does that evolve from what you did the public defender’s office, what makes you go out and become a private investigator?
Well, money was a big motivation. I worked for the state, I actually learned so much at the public defender’s office, worked with tremendous attorneys. Guys, that taught me a lot about how to do my job. And as time went on, I realized there was a bigger fish out there to deal with and more challenges. And I wanted to start my own business. And it ended up in evolution. It took a lot of risk. I think a lot of lawyers, young lawyers go through that when they decide to go out on their own. And I had that same risk. And I was very fortunate that things worked out. Growing up here in Miami, I knew a lot of people. And so it was a natural fit. And here I am today and I’m almost ready to retire. I have my my son who’s my partner. Now, Travis Wasser. And technology technology has changed. So he has really boosted up our agency through the technology side. And he’s learned, learned a lot. And he’s, he’s out there doing going full time.
Good stuff, good stuff. So let’s let’s talk about what is it? What does it mean to be a private investigator? Okay. I mean, because I think the scope of services you offer is going to shock some people as to just how broad that goes. I mean, you know, you can think of the easy things, okay, you know, we go out and it’s a divorce case, and we do surveillance, and, you know, we get some videos that, you know, kind of make people uncomfortable and resolve issues, but but talk a little bit about the whole practice.
Well, we really are a service industry that helps attorneys in their case in their cases, and we have multifunctions, you know, we work for all kinds of attorneys from divorce and marital situations, civil attorneys, which is plaintiff and defense and, and criminal attorneys. So our function is to assist the attorneys in their cases and try to help them bring the case forward, so that they can be prepared when they go to trial.
Well, and I know because I personally, I mean, we bring you in on a case and it’s it’s just a tremendous asset, you become part of our litigation team. And and, you know, insurance companies, they often have their in house people, you know, they’ve got that ability to get these things. Done. But but for a small firm like Mark and I, to be able to bring somebody like you on a case and say, okay, from the onset, you know, hey, this, this just happened, this accident occurred or this incident occurred somewhere and immediately, we’ve sort of got eyes and ears on the ground, you know, we’re able to get somebody like you and other investigators that work for you out there to kind of develop what was going on in the scene and who the potential witnesses are and develop all of that. So how do you see your role when when lawyers bring you in? Early in a case?
Well, as time has changed, and in recent time, now, it’s important for us to get out there as soon as possible after an incident occurs. Sometimes people look at it is like almost ambulance chasing, but it’s not ambulance chasing, once we’re hired by the attorney, it’s important for us to get out there and talk to witnesses while it’s fresh. And we have a system where we go to our databases and our investigative research and we find these people and before they get lost people move away Miami’s got a lot of transient people that come and go. And so it’s important to, to talk to these witnesses, because a lot of times the police, they don’t concern themselves with keeping people around at scenes. And, and so a lot of those people get lost. So we have to get out there quick and and do our job. And that certainly helps the cases move forward.
Let’s say it’s also a situation I think now, having somebody get out to an area, there’s so much video cameras, on businesses and everything else to be able to get a lot of those businesses. It’s great. They’ve got surveillance one now nowadays,
I mean, bring cameras, me there’s more stuff being caught on ring cameras of what’s going on in the street. But you know, those businesses have systems and they rewrite and everything else. So if you don’t get somebody out there quickly, you may lose that opportunity. And that can be that can be a game changer. In a case. While it’s it’s extremely important. That’s one of the first things we do when we go and canvass an area. When I say Canvas, I mean, we go knock on doors, in a radius around where the incident occurred. And we’re looking everywhere for cameras. And it’s amazing how many cases we’ve solved through cameras. And a lot of times again, the police miss it because they’re not so interested in cameras for a lot of reasons. We need those cameras, because every camera could pick up something different. That may be helpful in our case.
Yeah, it’s it’s it’s critical. And, and and the services go beyond that. And I’m gonna ask you to share a story just because it’s my favorite story, because because I think it shows a couple of things shows the creativity of a guy like you, but even his things, civil as Service of Process. Sometimes, you know, lawyers have to get somebody served with papers. And sometimes people are trying to avoid that. So they may hire a private investigator, so So tell us about maybe one of your more interesting Service of Process cases. Well,
there was a case that went back a few years, a very wealthy developer on Miami Beach, lived on a private island. And we were trying to serve Him because this father in law, wanted him served papers. He was trying to collect on some money that was owed. And I had tried to go in the front door, but they had a gate there, and bodyguards. And so that wasn’t working out. So I put one of my guys, I told the client, I said, Hey, listen, he’s out of the country. Right now I’ve got an informant that’s told me that. He said, I don’t care. I want you to be out there. 24 hours a day, seven days a week till we get up. said okay. That’s good with me. So, I put one of my guys out on the causeway, and all of a sudden I get a call from him one day, and he goes, he’s here. I go, What do you mean? He goes, I’m looking through my binoculars. And I see him and he’s with several women and their nude sunbathing behind his beautiful mansion on this island. And I said, I’ll be right there. So I go to sunbathing. You’re actually planning on working. It’s one of my better case. Okay. So I get on over to club nautico. I ran a boat from Miami Beach Marina, where the captain and we pull up to the the man’s residence from the water and the planet was to fake engine trouble and roll up to his dock and asked to use his phone. So that worked like a dream. The guy came down, he actually put a towel around himself as he approached us and he said, What’s going on? I said, Well, we have some engine trouble. And he he, I said, Can Can I use your phone to call for help. And as we were getting close to him, he, I reach out and I pull the, the summons out of my back pocket, and I hand it to him. And he goes, What’s this? And I go, Well, you’ve been served
a summons. And
he said, Can I have your card? I said, Why didn’t you come in the front gate? I go, not too easy. Yeah.
That’s exactly why I didn’t come to the front gate. But again, the creativity and sort of persistence on getting something done. I mean, you know, if can’t get it done one way, try another way.
Well, you try to, you know, most of the time, and, and this has been the way I work, I try to do it, the, the easy way, just go out and talk to people straight up and, and do our job, you know, the way most people do it. But then if they’re, you know, deceptive, then we got to play our games, too. And sometimes you’re successful, sometimes you’re not, we just do the best we can.
Well, one of the things and and I think it really goes a lot to the success you’ve had over the years, but I’ve watched it firsthand is, again, I think your ability to communicate with people to get people to be candid with you, you know, in just in a non threatening, you know, kind of likable way. But But you know, I’ve read lots of statements you’ve taken on behalf of my clients and everything else. And you can see, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s a nervous situation, you’re asking somebody, Hey, can I take a recorded statement, but you’ve got an art about you, that puts people at ease. I mean, you created that what to just years of experience, or, you know,
people are very reluctant to talk because they’re abused by our system, unfortunately. And it’s hard to get witnesses to come forward and talk knowing that they may have to sit down in court, and wait and never get called, or get called numerous times, and never, never get called or then get abused from another attorney. So we just try our best to be straight with them. And because once you lied to them and and mislead them, they’re gone. That’s it, it’s over. And so we try to treat him as best as we can. And guys, like you that are attorneys that also help the situation out by speaking to them after we get hold of them, and making them feel like important. And and they have value to the case. It’s, it’s all good. And we we just try to do that. And, and and I try to do the best I can sometimes it doesn’t work,
right? Oh, yeah, no, no, you got to be one nothing to do with you. But But I think that is important. And and and it’s you know, it’s something I do when when you talk to people because again, if you mislead them, oh, you just give us a statement, you know, that’ll be the end of it. Well, then all sudden, they get served with a subpoena and they’ve got to be deposed, or they’ve got to show up in court. Now they’re not happy, okay, at least, you know, I think you got to lay it out but but explain how they can be part of helping this solution because normally, you know, the cases that you’re dealing with, for my firm or other civil firms, you know, oftentimes deal with devastating injuries, okay. And, and, and the ability to change people’s lives. But you got to get other people to help.
You know, some people just when it’s, when it happens to you, you know, and you want to help to somebody to help you, a lot of people don’t feel that same way. You know, they don’t want to help anybody else. We live we live in a very selfish town sometimes, right? And that’s what we struggle with, you know, and I guess, you try to make people feel good by letting them know how they’re helping and what they mean to this case. And, you know, that’s what we prey on, you know, sometimes I’ll show a picture of the person who is hurt very badly or, and and try to get some sympathy. Right. And that helps sometimes to get them to come forward and talk.
Well, let’s, let’s talk and you talked, you know, that your office now transitioning with your son Travis a little bit? How has technology changed the game? I mean, you started you know, back in the day where, you know, you you’d be out there and and, you know, it’s all knocking door to door to door and it’s that hard work that does that. So how have things changed? Well, now that you brought it up That’s right. Phone,
Grant Miller come in. So yes, this is a, this was called the brick. And it was the first telephone I had, I got an issue to me when I worked at the public defender’s office and weighs about 10 pounds. So get me in shape curls. But yes, technology has changed. I remember when I first went out, to go to a house to try to see who lived in a house back in the day. We couldn’t run license plates on the scene, we didn’t know who was in the house. So we’d have to go back to the office. Okay, go on our computer, that we had just gotten and learned how to get a tag and information, go back to the house. And now we knew whose car that was in front of them. Swimming, they were still there, right? Nowadays, you have a picture of them, you know, what his record is, you know, who lives with him? It’s so much technology that is helpful to us, and helps us identify who were were targeting.
What about other things that are there? database searches? Okay. I mean, I know, oftentimes, we’ll have a significant automobile accident, there’s a limited amount of coverage, you know, we sort of need the peace of mind to know, okay, this person that caused the accident, you know, most people in this town, and Florida is a pretty well, you know, well known state for debtors, you know, because they’re protected. But, you know, so talk about the databases that are available, some things that you may offer to law firms to help on on the financial end of things. So looking into things?
Well, there’s certainly databases that help us identify assets, you know, real property boats, you know, if they’ve filed bankruptcy, because if if, and have liens, because if you’re going after somebody, and they have all these things, you want to let your attorney that you’re working for know this, because they may not want to take the case,
right? And that’s the harsh reality. I mean, we’ve got to sit down with a client. So now this person was absolutely at fault. Yes, you’re absolutely significantly injured. But there’s nothing there. At the end of the day, I mean, you know, we can get you a piece of paper, you know, we get a jury to bring it back to you, but nobody’s going to be happy at the end of the day with your piece of paper, which we get a percentage of that piece of paper. That never gonna be collectible.
That’s correct. You know, at one point, I was gonna start a business, going after people going after debtors. And it’s a lot harder than you think attorneys are great at suing people and winning cases. But collecting on a debt is very difficult, and it’s time consuming. And at the end of the day, sometimes you just don’t get there. So we do the best we can to advise them of what they have, what they can get. And then it’s up to them how hard they want to push.
All right, let’s shift gears a little bit. You were involved in some pretty high profile national cases on on the criminal end, and I know the one that comes to mind is the murder of the young woman down in Miami few years back, how do you get involved with something like that?
Well, on that particular case, I think it was like New Year’s and all my investigators were hung over or from New Year’s Eve, and I was the one that answered the phone that day. Okay. Boyfriend called me to hire me. And he had desperately gone out trying to find his girlfriend who was missing. And, you know, I asked him, how’d you get my name? How’d you find me? And he did through the internet. Actually, I guess on Google, he googled private investigator Miami and I came up. And so I tried to help him. But I was a little sketchy about him. I wanted to learn more about him to see if he’s telling me the truth, because I didn’t know him from Adam. And I met him down at the Miami police department and I said, Let’s go talk to this detective. And immediately he was telling the story to me right as we’re talking to the detective, because time was of the essence at that point, she was missing for a little bit. And in missing persons cases, you want to find them as soon as you can. You want to get your information out there to the media in different places. So you can hopefully have a successful result. Unfortunately, in this case, yeah,
horrific, horrific result, you know, find her dead set on fire in a dumpster. I mean, that’s that’s even even in Miami standards. That one sort of shook everybody a little.
It was terrible. It was terrible. And We didn’t get a whole lot of cooperation from the police department that was handling it, because in my opinion, they just weren’t well trained in their home aside investigation, and they let a lot of things slip by. I was very upset about that. And we did our best to help the family, but there needed to be a stronger presence. And I know it wasn’t the most important thing on their on their list. But there could have been a lot more.
Right. So how do you deal with that relationship? Okay, because obviously, a lot of times you’re involved, whether it be a civil issue, or a criminal issue, where you’ve got the police actively involved? How do you kind of try to blend that relationship, because I would assume that it many times the police officers are like, okay, you’re your private investigator go away, let the big boys do their job, you know, but as you point out, and again, not a criticism of the police, a lot of times, they’re not really doing all they can
you know, the police are protected by open cases. So if it’s an open homicide, they do not have to share anything with us. And as a result, that can work out good for them or bad for them. In this particular case, I thought it was bad for them, because I think if they had worked with us, and other other people, private organizations, they could have solved this case. But unfortunately, you try your best to get their confidence because my, my feeling was I didn’t want to go out and hurt the police. I love the police, right? These are great. They’re they’re what we need, who wants to defend police, we need more police, right. But you want to work together and find a common ground where you both can assist each other. And a lot of times, private investigators. I know I’ve worked with Miami Dade homicide and different organizations, and they’ve been great in certain cases. And we’ve been able to help them and they’ve been able to help us. So it all depends on the case who’s involved. And the trustworthiness, I’ve had always had a lot of former detectives working for me and their relationship with the police, bridges the gap and helps things move forward. And hey, the bottom line, we want to we want to help them get the case soft. That’s that’s what it’s all about.
Yeah, and we get the same thing. I mean, a lot of times, I’ve got cases where the state attorneys involved in some component of I’ve got the civil end of it, they’ve got the criminal. And it really is it’s kind of hit or miss sometimes because we very actively reach out because a lot of times I have information I’ve brought guy like you on, we’ve obtained this information that I want to give them to help on the criminal end. So there’s always an odd sometimes pushback, like you know, they’re doing and I’m like, No, we’re, we’re, we’re fighting for the same goal here. You know, and if I’ve got some stuff can help you and I get, you know, all I’m asking as you share with me what you can and I understand there’s restrictions on it. But but so a lot of times that’s been very successful, but sometimes Yeah, there’s just big pushback. They don’t want to deal with the civil lawyer and let them handle their stuff.
Well, the problem is, if you get a lazy guy, that lazy detective that hasn’t done his work, and he doesn’t have to share his file, that’s true. He can continue to be lazy and do nothing, and nothing happens. So there, there seems to need to be a watchdog, sometimes watching out for these guys, and you hope the internal departments handle their department well. But I’ve seen it where it’s it’s been where it’s been a problem and in some departments.
Alright, we’ve talked about getting you involved early in cases and how that’s integral because now you sort of become part of that litigation team to look at overall strategy to look at. And, you know, there’s been times you shared with me, Hey, this could be a potential defendant, you know, maybe something we weren’t looking at, you know, somebody else owns this as well. But it runs the gamut all the way through. So because you’re even involved, oftentimes, once it goes to jury, okay, and in looking at potential jury issues and everything else, we’ll talk a little bit about that.
Well, we have worked on jury cases before sometimes we background that jurors when they go to trial, so attorneys like to get the edge up on the competition or whoever they’re going against. And one of the things they do is they hire us to do background checks on everybody in the jury pool to see if they’re telling the truth or if there’s something that they don’t want that juror if we find that somebody In the background check, so they can get rid of that germ before they put them on their panel. There’s also jury misconduct investigations. And so there’s there’s a number of ways and things we do backgrounding those people and developing information that certainly assists the attorneys in their job.
It’s, it’s a, it’s a tremendous help. And again, you know, smaller firm like Mark and I, to be able to add an asset like that to the team, you know, again, big firms may have full time jury consultants, and all of that, but you’ve got to reach out to people and build your team, you know, and we do it through people like you like private investigators. We have nurses, we have doctors that we work with, and everything else hand in hand. So so you’re kind of winding down the career, what’s been the most enjoyable part of being a private detective or private investigator?
Well, you know, my father wanted me to get an us Insurance Agency. And to me, that was so boring. It was terrible. The great thing about private investigation is you. Every day you wake up, you get a new case, it’s something different, it’s exciting. And then that’s what I think drives me is that if you know, something different every day, and I’ve enjoyed the career, I’ve worked with some great people, yourself. Many attorneys, and and private people that have just been I’ve had nothing but good experiences, very few bad experiences in my life, I guess the bad experiences would would be the danger of the job or going into neighborhoods that are you’re dealing with just a lot of violent crime, and you’re investigating violent crime and you hear bullets flying, you’re out there at night. you’re photographing scenes, and you’re seeing gangs of people that are looking to see what you’re doing. So it makes your job. That’s the uneasiness of the job. But other than that, it’s been a very rewarding career. You know, I didn’t, I didn’t finish college. And a lot of people think everybody should send their kid to college. Well, this is a career where you don’t need to go to college. You can educate yourself, you can go through courses, and get to wear this to be a good private investigator by just following your path. And I was fortunate that had people helping me teaching me on the job, and it worked out well. And I know it wasn’t all that hard because I do believe I think you and your wife Jamie went undercover on a cruise to somewhere.
I’ve heard some of these gigs that weren’t too bad. So you know, if you get to recruit your wife Jamie to go into an undercover role, that can’t be that bad.
Well, she’s a talker. She can talk her way out anything and and she was an asset to me so it was fun having her around when I had her around. As long as she wasn’t in my ear all day long. Sorry, James. Don’t watch
unsolicited testimony from a watcher so let’s dive It has been a pleasure it’s been great night and and I know we’re not done working with you yet. You may be trying to get out of town but but you know, I got to build up things with Travis and get things going there because you’re a critical part to our practice and and I appreciate all you’ve done for the legal end of things. And as a friend I mean, it just goes goes without saying you’ve been a tremendous friend and I look forward to many many more years together.
Well, thank you Dave. I I’m not dead yet. I still want to work a little bit here and there as time goes on. And so I’ll be around and look forward to still work with you and Mark great attorneys and and you guys are true professionals.
Appreciate it. So look, we don’t get a lawyer to take off the kill list. But here’s a private investigator in case you want to look into a lawyer that you want to get killed. He can give you the background on him and everything else but but appreciate everybody watching this one. We’ll be back next week with with some more interesting legal things. And Dave, really appreciate your time. Thank you, man.