Juliet Bickford, a Virginia news anchor, pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud and money laundering charges on Wednesday in connection with an international fraud scheme orchestrated by her private investigator boyfriend, Theodoros Grontis.
Court Documents allege that Grontis, who ran an investigation company called “Internal Affairs” with a former Toronto police detective and his wife, claimed to be an asset recovery specialist with access to international bank account information. Clients paid tens of thousands of dollars for the bank statements of their former spouses or litigation opponents. What they got were phony records that Grontis and his team forged and passed off as genuine. Prosecutors say that Grontis fleeced clients out of over $1 million and laundered the money through Bickford’s bank account.
Bank statements are a tantalizingly convenient way to show that someone is hiding assets. However, as we tell all of our clients, it is illegal to access bank account information without the account holder’s permission, a court order, or a subpoena. Any investigator who says he or she can get bank account information for you is either willingly violating the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act or, like Grontis, inventing the records out of whole cloth. For all of you lawyers out there, you, not just your investigators, will be on the hook for breaking the law.
Even though we can’t get bank records, we can often find more than enough information through legal means to help you recover from a debtor. We can identify real property, stocks, corporate holdings, and countless other forms of assets through public record searches. For example, reading through the litigation history of the debtor’s employer may reveal that he holds a partnership interest in the company. If the debtor is a high-level executive, SEC filings might show that the debtor has a sizeable deferred compensation plan. Interviews with former employees can also tell you where a debtor company banks. You can then issue appropriate discovery demands or subpoena records directly from the debtor’s bank.
Getting information through this time-tested process is less risky and substantially less expensive than obtaining the information by illegal means. You just have to be willing to think creatively and have a bit of patience.