Local P.I.s aren’t exactly Magnum

Many private investigators spend their time working with attorneys
Daily Republic | 1999
By Rowena Lugtu-Shaddox

A bottle of Viagra sitting on top of a 16-year-old girl’s picture was enough to get a Northern California woman to hire a private investigator.
She wanted surveillance of her husband,” said Paul Gunter, a private investigator from Gunter Investigative Services in Vacaville. She thought her (56-year-old) husband was messing around with the 16-year-old girl. So Gunter went to work. He got phone records that showed the husband called the girl several times. Gunter and two other investigators conducted stake-outs. Over a period of three months, they saw him at the girl’s school. Another time, the pair met for coffee. “At one point, we followed him in a rented car. He was trying to be real sly,” Gunter said. The girl showed up in her own car, then got into his Despite tinted windows on the rental, investigators captured them on video tape, hugging, kissing, and him touching her.

Spousal infidelity is usually why private investigators are called upon to do surveillance. But finding a local Magnum PI. won’t be easy because many investigators don’t do surveillance. At least one jacks his rate up so high that prospective clients can’t afford him.

In Solano County, there are about a dozen private investigators listed in the yellow pages. Much of the work they do is for attorneys, helping out in civil and criminal court cases.

“Seventy percent of our work is for criminal cases. Thirty per-cent is civil,” said Fairfield private investigator Eugene Borghello of Special Investigations Group Inc, His office has worked for both the plaintiff and the defense.

“We interview witnesses and look for different things in each case,” Borghello said “We verify if statements to police are accurate. It’s not our job to deter-mine if someone is guilty or innocent.” In some cases, statements conveyed in police reports have been taken out of context, or information is omitted, Borghello said.

When a private investigator gets involved and interviews parties involved, the “heat of the moment is over When the officers interview people, there’s a lot of chaos,” he added.

Doors shutting in their faces comes with the territory. People, in general, are leery to talk because they’re afraid of repercussions from a “bad guy,” scared of the police or simply don’t want to get involved. But police officers have an edge.

“Cops interview with the power of authority,” Borghello said. “We interview people with the power of persuasion. We have to gain people’s trust.”

The job comes with some satisfaction, especially when proving that someone is truly innocent Take Steve Boutin. He’s been a private investigator since 1959

He worked a capital murder case with Fairfield attorney Barry Newman involving five defendants accused of killing two co-eds from the University of California, Davis. Their client was charged with the crime 10 years after it happened.For three years, Boutin chipped away, questioning potential witnesses and trying to uncover evidence to help his client.

“There was a time problem,” Boutin said At the time of the killing, their client was in Carson City.

“A witness recanted their testimony and couldn’t identify the defendants,” Boutin said. The district attorney ended up drop-ping the charges “If the cops got it right, there’s nothing you could do,” Boutin said “But it’s quite possible to prove they’ve done such a sloppy job.”

In one case, a Napa man was in jail for a year on a murder charge. Two days before the start of the trial, Borghello found the actual suspect in Georgia, who admitted his guilt to the judge.

“Those cases make you feel good,” he said.

Another time, Borghello helped prove a 15-year-old boy’s innocence in an assault case.He showed that at the time the assault occurred, the boy was receiving his diploma.”Witnesses saw him because of his height He was sitting in the front row,” Borghello said.

The work of private investigators IS essential, Newman said.

At times, police reports are incomplete because not all witnesses have been questioned, he said Investigators find those witnesses and help determine if statements in police reports are accurate, Newman said.

“Even during the best of times, most police agencies are stressed out and overworked,” defense attorney Dan Russo said.

“A lot of times, private investigators produce the critical evidence in a case. “A lot of times, an investigation ceases with the defendant’s arrest. If you have an innocent client, the private investigator can help prove it.”

Evidence produced by a private investigator hired by Russo aided in reaching a resolution The case involved a mentally retarded Suisun City woman who was accused of sexually abusing three boys, which could have put her in prison for 70 or more years.

His investigator uncovered “conduct by the ‘victims,’ ” Russo said. Because of that, the woman was instead able to plead to misdemeanor charges.

“The investigator is a key part in any attorney’s case,” Russo said.

“They are the eyes and ears out in the field,” fellow defense attorney Dan Healy added. “You need private investigators to interview witnesses and photo-graph a scene of the damage.

“Everybody needs their Paul Drake beating the pavement,” he added, referring to fictional Perry Mason’s private investigator.

Private investigators must have at least 5,000 hours of investigative work to obtain a license.

Some have law enforcement backgrounds, such as Borghello, a former Hayward police officer, and Gunter, who retired last year from the Vacaville Police Department.

Where as Gunter prefers not working for attorneys because he “doesn’t like doing defense work,” Borghello doesn’t have a problem with it but says he won’t lie for anyone, defense or not.

“Integrity is the most important thing to me,” he said. “Whether you’re testifying for the defense or the prosecution, there’s no difference. It’s all about the truth.

“We get our cases through our reputation,” added Borghello, who has worked several capital murder cases.

Pat Rossacci of P&L Investigations has been a private investigator for a dozen years, starting the business after he retired from the Air Force.

An investigator’s work isn’t glamorous, but Rossacci enjoys being his own boar’, he’ said.

A typical day begins with paperwork, but the bulk of the day is spent tracking leads and conducting interviews, Rossaccl said.

At any given time, they work more than a dozen cases at one time. Surprisingly, local private investigators don’t compete for business because there’s plenty of work for everyone, they said.

Like Borghello, Rossacci has worked high-profile cases, including the infamous Vallejo bombing caper. specifically for defendant Francis Ernestberg.

“That is the most memorable (case to date),” Rossacci said, “the magnitude of what happened.

“I’m able to help people -that’s a great hobby for me,” Rossacci added

TV has helped give private investigators a “bad rap.” they said.

“P.1 s have a terrible reputation of taking people’s money and not doing the job,” Borghello said. If you’re going to pick one., It should be by referral “