Thursday, June 25, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: He's Not Your Everyday Detective

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 25, 2009

Albuquerque private investigator Mike Corwin in recent years has been paid thousands of dollars by the campaigns of Democratic candidates in New Mexico. He's done background checks on campaign workers and "opposition research" (read: dirt digging) for candidates including U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, Attorney General Gary King, former Land Commissioner Jim Baca and most of all, Gov. Bill Richardson.

He's also done work for government agencies. He did some work for the city of Albuquerque when Baca was mayor. Corwin recently did background checks for employees of the town government of Edgewood. In 2007, he was contracted by the state Judicial Standards Commission to investigate Rio Arriba County Magistrate Judge Tommy Rodella. Rodella's lawyer claimed this was evidence that the judge was the victim of a political vendetta by Richardson. The next year, the state Supreme Court removed Rodella from office.

But could it be possible that Corwin's employers could have saved thousands of dollars if only they'd had access to an online publication written and marketed by Corwin?

The Everyday Detective Information System, which sells for $19.95, is a 135-page pdf document that promises to teach buyers "how to conduct background investigations of businesses, including day care centers and nursing homes, of people including nannies, home health care workers and rental tenants and of professional services, including remodeling contractors and physicians."

Says Corwin's Web site for the publication, "Once learned, these techniques will help you to better protect your family, your money and your home by helping you to identify risky people and businesses before you get involved with them." And there's a chapter on how to avoid being a crime victim — basic tips Corwin said he learned from working for criminal-defense lawyers.

In an interview Wednesday, Corwin said The Everyday Detective was not written as a "So You Want to be a P.I." book. Instead he said, it's just to allow regular citizens to learn how to find information. "There's so much information out there."

The chapters in The Everyday Detective include how to effectively interview people, how to search court records and other public information, how to locate people, how to do background checks and how to investigate auto accidents.

How to be your own best gumshoe: Some of the pitch on his Web site almost seems as if he's trying to use a self-help appeal. In fact, he calls The Everyday Detective "the first step to a more confident and proactive you."

"Imagine the sense of empowerment these new skills will bring to you as you realize that you have the know-how to minimize risks while handling the challenges that life throws your way," the Web site says.

While his main target audience seems to be those who want to check out nursing homes or prospective renters, there's another possible group Corwin says might benefit from his work: "Bloggers who want to take off and do their own political opposition research," he said.

He said he considered including a chapter on opposition research for this project. But he decided that would be the subject of a future book.

Background check: Corwin, a New York native transplanted to California, has been in the investigation biz since 1988. He said he became a detective because he didn't want to be a lawyer and he was tired of the construction business.

He said he graduated from the Nick Harris Detective Academy, which, according to its Web site, is affiliated with a Van Nuys, Calif., detective agency that was established in 1906. "The main thing they teach you is that detective work is not like what you see on TV," Corwin said.

Corwin said he's done more than 8,000 witness interviews and over 10,000 background investigations. He also says he's done investigative work for more than 100 political campaigns.

The detective took a stab at electoral politics himself, running for an Albuquerque state House seat in 2004. Corwin lost to Republican Greg Payne in that contest.
Val in Wonderland
But despite his love for politics, Corwin sounds more excited when he talks about a case he worked early in his career — a multiple homicide in Hollywood involving a major porn star, drug dealers and various other L.A. underbelly denizens that became known as the "Wonderland Murders." Corwin worked for the lawyer of nightclub owner Eddie Nash, who was tried and eventually acquitted for planning the murders of four people.

There's a New Mexico political connection here. That case later was made into a movie called Wonderland which starred Val Kilmer as adult-movie star "Big" John Holmes. If Kilmer runs for governor — a prospect that's looking less likely as Kilmer has been avoiding the local limelight lately — who better to hire for opposition research than the detective who helped spring Eddie Nash?