Financial detectives find money hidden by fraudsters - Denver Business Journal by Heather Draper, Reporter
If you’ve been scammed by a financial fraudster, one of your first reactions might be to sue the perpetrator.
But winning a court battle against a scam artist is only half the battle. Trying to recover a financial judgment often ends up being more difficult than winning the case itself.
Joe Dickerson, 70, founder of Littleton-based Financial Forensic Services (FFS), has spent decades uncovering hidden assets from convicted fraudsters. His company of forensic accountants and analysts specializes in recovering judgments or restitution awarded by a court in cases of fraud or other forms of white-collar crime.
“Eighty percent of judgments are never paid. That’s why I’m in business,” said Dickerson, a former Houston police detective who started his financial forensic business in Colorado in the mid-1980s.
His firm typically works for clients with judgments in the $50,000-to-multimillion-dollar range.
FFS estimates that the judgments that aren’t paid represent billions of uncollected dollars nationwide. Most creditors lack analytical expertise to recoup their money.
Dickerson and FFS have that expertise. He has assembled a team of financial “detectives” that includes a former Naval Intelligence officer, a former FBI Bank Fraud Task Force member, and a former Securities and Exchange Commission staffer.
“The average person has a problem, they end up in court, and they win because they were the good guys and the facts were on their side,” Dickerson said. “When the verdict comes in and the judgment is written and delivered, the average person thinks the check is going to be with it. They’re shocked to learn that’s half the job. It will take months or years to get the money, if they get it at all.”
He and his staff will subpoena bank and financial records domestically and overseas, investigate shell corporations, analyze phone bills, interview former employees and do just about whatever it takes to figure out where a convicted person may be hiding assets.
In one case many years ago, Dickerson helped a Fort Collins bank recover $1.3 million that was hidden in 71 different corporate entities.
Time is on FFS’ side, and Dickerson is a patient man.
“You can still go after assets for 20 years,” he said. “I let them think it’s all over and that I’ve forgotten. Then I pop my head up like the ol’ anteater, and all of sudden he wakes up and his yacht is gone, and darn, his Harley is gone and he says, ‘Who was that masked man?’”
And the worse the economy, the better their business, said Stephanie Archer-Dickerson, FFS’ chief operating officer and Joe’s wife.
“If there were 5,000 of us, there still wouldn’t be enough to service the markets and the victims of Ponzi schemes, and estate or business disputes,” said Archer-Dickerson, an accountant who served on the FBI’s Bank Fraud Task Force.
She said FFS helps clients keep “a lot of different balls in the air” in the recovery portion of a case.
“We’re case managers for them in the second half of the case,” Archer-Dickerson said. “We dig deep enough to find and document these assets, and know what to do with them once we have them.”
Dana Temple, a Denver asset recovery attorney who has worked dozens of cases with FFS, said Dickerson’s firm provides a “laser-beam approach” to seizing assets.
“Joe and I have worked together on a number of post-judgment cases,” Temple said. “A client will come to me with a large judgment and will want me to retrieve the money. I often say to them, ‘Why don’t we find out if the debtors have executable funds first?’ Without a proper financial investigation, you’re kind of shooting in the dark.”
She said clients are surprised when she sometimes advises them not to hire her in cases where a financial investigation shows there’s probably no money to recover.
“Why go to the expense and time and agony of litigation if there’s no pot at the end of the rainbow?” Temple said. “Generally, clients think there is always money to get. That’s not always the case.”
She enjoys working on cases with FFS where they “go after the bad guys. There’s nothing I love more than telling my client I have money for them.”
FFS has long worked with asset recovery attorneys such as Temple, but recently joined forces with the 107-year-old Columbia Law List, a list of 1,000 attorneys in the United States and overseas with specific experience helping corporate and individual creditors recover debt.
The new partnership, named Judicial Forensic Services, will be based in Florida and should help both entities expand their business and reach.
“I take the business to them. We’re giving them new cases,” Dickerson said. “On the flip side, those attorneys now have access to us in doing their research and due diligence.”
Robert Pinchuck, owner and president of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Columbia Financial International, the firm that operates the Columbia Law List, said it’s a great partnership because his firm has worked on the “location” side of asset recovery, not the collection side.
“Joe performs the actual collection,” Pinchuck said. “He’s localizing the assets and utilizing our attorney network to grab the money. Between the two of us, we now have coverage around the world and the best intelligence around.”
For Dickerson, the partnership is an expansion of a forensic research business he hopes will continue long after he retires.
“It’s not just a living now,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 48 years, so it’s kind of a ministry to help people who need it. And I don’t know of anybody who is doing this the way we are.”
Heather Draper covers banking, finance, law and the economy for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the "Finance Etc." blog.