‘Financial detective’ on the lookout for hidden assets
by Amy Bryer
Joe Dickerson is a detective of sorts. He’s not a gun-toting detective who gets into fistfights and always gets the villain and the girl. He’s a financial detective who can find where people hide money, assets and anything else of value.
Against someone who committed fraud or another white-collar crime. Frequently the convicted person hid assets to avoid paying the victim, and it’s Dickerson’s job to find the money. Dickerson goes beyond just a subpoena of a bank records. Assets can be hidden in shell corporations, homes, boats, cars, planes, stocks, even construction equipment. Often, the assets are concealed under the names of family members or colleagues and sometimes those people aren’t even aware their names are being used.
In one case, Dickerson found a check written to an out-of-state power company that turned up thousands of acres of farm and ranch land owned by the convicted person, but not listed under his name. The search doesn’t stop with the subpoena of financial records. Even analyzing a phone bill can reveal calls to a bank in the Bahamas, he said. Dickerson will even interview ex-spouses and former secretaries to find leads to assets that are hard to locate on paper. According to a study by Dickerson Financial, less than 3 percent of restitution orders in criminal cases are fully recovered. Dickerson is trying to change those odds. “Getting the verdict is only half the battle,” he said.
The majority of criminal cases are turned into civil cases that allows the victim to use subpoena power to obtain the personal financial information on the convicted criminal. In white-collar crime, the victim is torn by competing interests, Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Bill Lucero said. “The victim would like to see the person punished and put in jail, but what they need more than anything else is to get their money back,” Lucero said. “If youcan’t prove they have the ability to pay, you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”
The DA’s office often cuts deals for probation just so the victim will recover his or her cash. Lucero describes Dickerson as a junk-yard dog who sniffs out people’s money.
A district attorney is not allowed to counsel victims in recovering cash, but Dickerson is not hamstrung by the same rules, Lucero said. “He can use techniques that are not allowed by us — they’re not illegal, just not allowed,” he said. “Government has to play by a different set of rules.”
Lucero worked with Dickerson during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the early 1990s when several land developers swindled banks out of millions of dollars with phony letters of credit. At the time, Lucero was employed by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office. Dickerson located assets for the head of a now-defunct real estate company who declared bankruptcy during the savings-and-loan debacle of the ’80s. The financial detective uncovered the assets 10 years after the deals were done, Lucero said. “All I know is I’d hate to have [Dickerson] on my tail,” Lucero said.
Dickerson, who started his career in the 1960s as a detective for the Houston Police Department, helped a bank in Fort Collins recover $1.3 million in bad bank loans in the same case. After 14 months, Dickerson found 71 different corporate entities where the money was hidden, said Larry E. Scott, a retired banker. Dickerson also located money and assets in a house in Scottsdale, Ariz., a $250,000 mutual fund in Kansas City and other property held in a trust that no one recognized as his own. Although Scott said he never thought his bank would see the money again, Dickerson managed to find it all. The justice system believes justice is served when the verdict comes in and convicts the wrong-doers, but Dickerson disagrees with that philosophy.”Justice is served when the victim gets their money back into their bank account and they are made to feel whole again,” he said.