Life stories: A once-struggling student finds her own brand of intelligence, and rises to the top of her class…as a PI.
Ana Carolina Lanuza, a rangy blonde with a dose of Miami swagger in her voice, inherited a taste for covert ops from her dad, a retired businessman who’d worked with the CIA during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He never talked much about his past. But every night, father and daughter would sink into adjacent sofa cushions to watch their favorite detective shows: Cops, Court TV, and Forensic Files.
As a kid, Lanuza struggled in school, ever on the heels of her more scholarly older brother. “He was always the smart one,” she laughs. “I suffered from ADD growing up, so I was in remedial classes for reading, which was awful. And whenever I got to an exam, I could visualize where an answer was in the book, but I could never remember what the hell it was.”
Some kids have the kind of smarts that aren’t recognized in classrooms. If letters swam and scattered in her mind, the world around her formed a language that she read more clearly than other kids. On family car trips, instead of distracting herself with books, music, or video games, she trained her gaze outside, making a private game of memorizing cars by their taillights.
When Lanuza landed her first internship with a family friend and private investigator just after her college graduation, that old road-trip game came in handy. One night, she was conducting surveillance in front of a large, moonlit mansion. When a lone car rolled down the long, deserted road, the team thought the night was over. How could they trail a car in the middle of the night without rousing suspicion?
Lanuza suggested a solution: They could monitor the car from a safe distance by tracking its familiar taillights. “I saved the surveillance because of that,” she recalls.
With that success, Lanuza realized she’d found a classroom where she could excel.
As a PI, Lanuza has spent the last seven years kicking in doors, conducting surveillance, and navigating Miami’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Recently, Lanuza was selected as American InterContinental University’s distinguished alumna of 2013. She’s president of the Florida Association of Private Investigators and principal of her own firm, Leverage Investigations, a company she started in 2010 with her partner, Joe Carrillo.
Lanuza and (partner) Carrillo donate more than 30 hours a month to reuniting missing children with their families.
Lanuza and Carrillo also donate more than 30 hours a month to reuniting missing children with their families. She finds the pro-bono work rewarding and challenging, and it has even helped her resolve a longstanding mystery in her own life. “I always felt like there was something missing,” she says. “And I’d noticed that my Social Security number was issued two years after my birthday. That always puzzled me.”
After asking more questions and digging through old documents, Lanuza discovered she’d been adopted as an infant. Since Florida is a closed-adoption state, Lanuza had to pass through a series of legal and investigative hurdles to track down her birth-parents—including hiring an outside private investigator to help.
“It changed everything,” she says. “At first, I felt disappointed and hurt. There were other people that knew, even though I didn’t. Now I look back and think, no wonder! Of course! Little things, like I hated to dance, but my parents loved to dance. It explains a lot. I had a wonderful life, but now I’m more at peace.”
After her tumultuous journey, Lanuza has become something of an closed-adoption case expert—answering questions on online forums, offering advice, and helping others navigate muddy bureaucratic waters. “I want to make it easier for people to find their parents in closed-adoption states,” she says. “Whatever reason parents have for giving up a baby for adoption, they should know that something good came from it. That they gave us an extra chance.”
For Lanuza, that extra chance included finding her way to a couch with a father who loved intelligence just as much as she does now.
Ana Carolina Lanuza is owner of Leverage Investigations, a Miami firm specializing in surveillance, infidelity, and missing persons. Email her at email@example.com and/or follow her on Twitter at @SouthMiamiPI.