A recent article appearing in the New York Law Journal, “PI Arrested on Charges of Defrauding Top Litigation Firms” has prompted a colleague to submit this open letter and challenge that the subject in question is not a private investigator.
To: Anthony Lin, New York Law Journal
Re: “PI Arrested on Charges of Defrauding Top Litigation Firms”
From: Pat Clawson, Washington, DC
CC: Peter Henning/Wayne State University
Ellen Podgor, Stetson University
Peter Psarathoukis, Michigan Council of Private Investigators
Thanks for chatting with me about the Michael Lair story that was published today in the New York Law Journal.
Your story reports that Lair is a Montana private investigator who has been arrested on federal charges of defrauding top New York City litigators.
In our phone conversation this morning, you pointed out to me that the news release issued by the US Attorney’s Office identifies Lair as an “investigator” in its headline. I do not fault you for relying on that.
My research indicates that Lair is not a licensed private investigator. I believe your story unfairly tarnishes the image of the private investigation profession, although I am certain that was not your intent.
Professional investigators are licensed by state governments and must meet certain training, experience and integrity standards. We are subject to disciplinary action much as are attorneys, accountants, and other professionals. If an individual is unlicensed, they cannot hold themselves out to practice as a private investigator. It is no different than an unlicensed attorney holding himself out to practice.
Montana law requires private investigators to be licensed and regulated by the state. It does not appear that Lair, or his company, holds any Montana private investigation license.
The records of the Montana Board of Private Security Patrol Operators
and Investigators can be accessed here:
The records of the Montana Board of Private Security Patrol Operators and Investigators can be accessed here:
A license look-up search indicates that Lair is NOT a licensed private investigator in Montana. He is required by state law to have a license to practice in Montana:
37-60-301. License required. (1) Except as provided in 37-60-105 and 37-60-315, it is unlawful for any person to act as or perform the duties, as defined in 37-60-101, of a contract security company or proprietary security organization, a private investigator, or a private security guard without having first obtained a license from the board. Those persons licensed on April 18, 1983, shall retain their current licensure status and shall renew their licenses on the renewal date as prescribed by the department.
(2) It is unlawful for any unlicensed person to act as, pretend to be, or represent to the public that the person is licensed as a private investigator, a contract security company, a proprietary security organization, or a private security guard.
(3) A person appointed by the court as a confidential intermediary under 42-6-104 is not required to be licensed under this chapter. A person who is licensed under this chapter is not authorized to act as a confidential intermediary, as defined in 42-1-103, without meeting the requirements of 42-6-104.
(4) A person who knowingly engages an unlicensed private investigator, private security guard, or contract security company is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable under 37-60-411.
Further, it appears that Lair’s business, consumerdefense.com, was involuntarily dissolved by the Montana Secretary of State in December 2002 and is not a corporation in good standing in Montana.
You can verify that here:
ID #: D102890
Type: PUBLIC BENEFIT WITH MEMBERS
Jurisdiction State: MT
Status Reason: INVOLUNTARILY DISSOLVED
Date of Incorporation: 03/02/2000
Last AR Filed: 05/08/2001
Inactive Date: 12/02/2002
Purpose Code: SERVICE ORGANIZATION
Registered Agent: BRIAN P FAY
Address 2: 125 W MENDENHALL
The registered agent, Brian P. Fay, is an attorney with Angel, Coil & Bartlett in Bozeman, MT. His phone number is 406-586-8949.
I have run a couple of other checks. Michael T. Lair appears to have previously resided in the state of Washington.
Records of the Washington State Department of Licensing indicate that Lair is not licensed as a private investigator in Washington. That can be verified here:
It appears that Lair is not a licensed private investigator, but an imposter who is posing as one.
I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of this communication to Peter Henning of the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, who publishes a blog – the White Collar Crime Prof Blog – that is widely read by those of us in the fraud investigation community. His web site has picked up on your story and states, “Lair’s alleged conduct certainly does not enhance the reputation of PIs, which was already bruised by the H-P imbroglio.” You may see his report here:
I am also sending a copy of this communication to Peter Psarathoukis, the president of the Michigan Council of Private Investigators and a member of the board of directors of the National Council of Investigative & Security Services, the industry’s primary trade association. Peter is active on a national scale in policing the ethics of private investigators. You may reach him by phone at 734-433-2670.
I am also sending a copy of this communication to Rosemarie Testa-Mesis and Don C. Johnson, the publisher and editor of PI Magazine, which is already including a hyperlink on their magazine’s website, to the White-Collar Crime blog report that is based on your story.
I hope you will publish an additional report clarifying that Lair is not a licensed private investigator, because I believe the report published in today’s New York Law Journal unfairly tarnishes the reputation of private investigation industry. Those of use who are licensed professionals take ethics and professionalism very seriously.
Washington, DC Office:
5505 Connecticut Avenue NW #335
Washington, DC 20015-2601
PO Box 470
Flint, MI 48501-0470
4 Weems Lane #308
Winchester, VA 22601-3615
Great response letter!