Private investigators often get a bad rap. In popular television shows and movies they’re often portrayed as seedy unscrupulous spies hiding in the bushes trying to snap a few compromising photos of philandering spouses. In the news recently the News of the World phone hacking scandal has made a lot of noise about unethical investigators breaking into the voicemail of murder victims and family members of those who died in terrorist attacks. Just a month ago Contra Costa private investigator, Christopher Butler, and the commander of the Contra Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team made national headlines. They were indicted by a federal Grand Jury for allegedly arranging stings to steal drug evidence with the intention to sell the confiscated drug and operating a massage parlor in Pleasant Hill, CA where they targeted competing brothels and protected prostitutes in exchange for weekly payments.
And who among us can forget grenade-toting Anthony Pelicano, PI and “Wiretapper to the Stars” and his tawdry misdeeds that played out in every newspaper, celebrity magazine and news service around the world?
There is rarely a case made in the popular media about the good things PIs do. There are rarely stories like the recent case handled by Mark Feegel, of Feegel & Associates Investigative Solutions, a private investigator out of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Feegel has been in this business for more than 25 years. While attending college in Atlanta, where he was considering pursuing a career in law, he took a job as a runner for a local law firm.
“Which convinced me, no way, I don’t want to do that. I took the position of, ‘I don’t want to be married to the many problems each civil suit might bring on for years on end,'” Feegel said. “It’s very stressful.”
So instead he took a job as an insurance adjuster in 1985 and diligently worked as an investigator in that field until finally starting his own private investigation agency in 1994. Feegel said that when he started his agency the majority of cases he took were insurance defense cases, because that was familiar territory for him.
“Since then it’s been encompassing all types of investigations: Insurance defense, plaintiff work, mortgage fraud, criminal background, criminal investigation, criminal law, and some marital type things.”
But this recent case didn’t really fit into any of those categories…
Feegel said he was contacted by a man on the recommendation of a local law firm. This man, who we will call “Henry” because the court case has yet to be completely resolved, was fostering two young boys, three and four years old, and wished to adopt them. The children were placed into foster care by the state after their daycare center reported evidence of abuse.
“The kids would go to daycare with feces in their hair, reeking of urine. Just disgusting,” Feegel said. He added that they had lived for a time in a storage facility with their mother, and “her apartment that she’s been evicted from was inspected by the county. Roach infested, maggots.”
Henry wanted Feegel to find out if the children’s mother was still seeing her abusive boyfriend. She was seeking to regain custody of her children and told the court that she had cut ties with him as part of her bid to get her children back.
“And [the foster parents] didn’t believe it, but they were ready to accept whatever the truth is,” Feegel said. “He gave me the case, and didn’t tell me much about the boyfriend, just wanted to know if they ever got together.”
It didn’t take long for Feegel to confirm the foster parents’ suspicions.
“One day. Immediately,” Feegel said. “I set up down the street from her mobile home, and I followed her. She went to this guy’s mobile home and picked him up, and they went to lunch. Labor Day weekend they were partying together. So, there’s no question they’re definitely together.”
Feegel presented the evidence to the foster parents. It was then that Henry dropped the bomb.
“After I told them I have them on video, they’re definitely together, it’s documented and proven. He started telling me about the abusive boyfriend and that he’s a drug addict. I ran his background and he is definitely a drug dealer. Battery, assault, all this crazy stuff,” Feegel said. “Then he told me that the two-year-old, when he was one, received a fractured skull from this guy. He was arrested for it. And the four-year-old, who was three at the time, he slammed into a refrigerator. When I heard that I just went, ‘you know what? Your bill is zero. Let’s get these kids safe.'”
Feegel said that his bill would have been about $1,500 under normal circumstances.
“When it came down to billing time I’m thinking, ‘Why would I take money out of this guy’s wallet and get paid for saving these kids when that money can go to these kids and they can eat and be happy?'” Feegel said. “You know they’ve got a lot of responsibility having two kids. I don’t know if they have any more than that but they’re doing the right thing. At that point money isn’t always as important as doing the right thing.”
Feegel said that the children are being well taken care of by their foster family and, though no custody decision has been made, he has high hopes for the outcome and the betterment of the lives of these two beautiful foster children.
“The kids are going to church, they’re clean, they’re fed, they’re happy,” Feegel said. “Henry just sent me a picture of the kids at his father’s farm where they’re petting a pony. Showing that they’re happy and everything’s good.”
There’s no denying that a lot of what a private investigator does revolves around the question of money; whether it’s an insurance company trying to keep insurance claim proceeds from being paid to a fraudster, a spouse trying to catch a cheater so they can get a larger settlement out of the resulting divorce, or just getting paid for an investigative job well-done. However this assignment was different. The couple who hired Mark Feegel wasn’t looking for a payday… and, in the end, neither was Mark.
This wasn’t a case about money; it was about the welfare of two innocent children. For Feegel his reward was helping those kids, and he feels that says something about the PI profession that the public often fails to recognize:
“This is something that people should understand. We help people too,” Feegel said.
Editor’s note: Great job, Mark! Thanks for doing a fantastic job and always reflecting well on our profession.