The Power of Association – Finding the Hidden Gem in Investigations

The Power of Association – Finding the Hidden Gem in Investigations

The tunnel investigated

The tunnel – investigated and discovered.

Several years ago, while working in the gang and organized crime investigation business, I was called upon by a Canada Customs Intelligence Officer who was seeking some advice and assistance. This individual was well respected in the law enforcement community, and known for his ability to sniff out good information.

He was looking into the suspicious activities of a suspect who was known to law enforcement. The suspect had been followed to a derelict farm outside of Vancouver, situated about 75 yards from the unprotected border between Canada and the United States. In addition, the property was about 300 yards from the Aldergrove Port of Entry between the two countries with constant traffic in and around the farm. On the property was a Quonset hut where much of the activities of the individual (and his associates) were taking place.

…not many people believed there was any credibility to the possibility of a tunnel between our two countries

The Customs Officer briefed me that the people working at the Quonset hut were building some sort of structure inside and had observed the removal of soil and the entry of various building materials. He had a gut feeling that they might be digging a tunnel to the United States. Though no evidence existed to support his belief, he wanted me to take a look at it. In my capacity as a police manager, I had to be strategic, deploy my resources in a careful manner while taking into account all the pressures and demands that existed. If there was any truth to his theory, it would be an issue of national security for both Canada and the United States, and so, I elected to help.

The suspects had criminal records..this type of information had little relevance to me…I knew it was their associations and patterns of behaviour that were more important

I committed a couple of police resources to the investigation and ordered a full probe into the suspect’s background. To be truthful, not many people believed there was any credibility to the possibility of a tunnel between our two countries. I thought that after an investigation and some monitoring revealed no evidence of criminal activity, I’d have no choice but to shut things down. We found that the suspects we were investigating had criminal records and were known to police. This type of information had little relevance to me, because I knew it was their associations and patterns of behaviour that were more important. Then…everything changed.

My investigators reported that the Internet and database searches were completed, analyzed and revealed some interesting facts. One of the suspects was the nephew of an older couple that resided in the interior of the United States. This couple had purchased the property just over the border on the U.S. side, directly across from the Quonset hut property on the Canadian side. Curiously, the Canadian property had been purchased at about the same time by people associated with the American property owners.

Just 100 meters separated the two properties. Both were for sale at the same time and purchased by related family members. The couple from the Interior did not have the financial means to purchase a second property and were not planning on moving. Was this just coincidence? Not a chance! Something was going on and we were about to find out.

…the criminal records meant nothing to the investigation; it was the Internet and database searches and investigative analysis which ultimately connected the dots

There was now realistic justification to deepen the investigation. I committed additional resources to work the file, and the evidence our team found was irrefutable. We had our U.S. partners involved and subsequently shut down the operation after allowing the suspects to complete the tunnel and begin moving contraband through the porthole. This was the first and only tunnel to be detected on the Northern border between United States and Canada and garnered a lot of media attention. The suspects were all convicted.

In the end, the criminal records of the individuals meant nothing to the investigation; it was the Internet and database searches, supported by investigative analysis, which ultimately connected the dots and provided the evidence needed for a conviction.

I must emphasize that Internet and database searches alone would not have been sufficient. Searches result in a vast amount of information that then has to be analyzed by experienced investigators. It’s the analysis that sifts out the relevant nuggets from the heaps of data mined by searches. It’s the analysis that reveals the patterns.

Revealing someone’s associations and patterns of behavior is one of the most effective forms of investigation. So, whether you own a business and are investing or screening an potential employee, or, dating and considering a long term relationship or marriage, a deep investigation and analysis (beyond the usual criminal record and credit checks) frequently provides the most relevant information.

About the Author

Pat Fogarty is a former organized crime investigator now leading Internet research and investigations at Fathom Research Group. Read more about Pat.