LTL – Louis Goodman / Nick Montano – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Today, we’re going to do something a bit different. We’re going to talk to a private investigator who works with attorneys. Nicholas Montano is licensed in states throughout the West. He has law enforcement and corporate loss experience. He is a member of numerous professional associations and has received awards in his professional capacity. Nick has worked with attorneys on both civil and criminal litigation for more than 30 years. Nick Montano, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Nick Montano 00:40
Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me today.
Louis Goodman 00:42
It’s a pleasure to have you. It’s fun to talk to someone who’s not an attorney once in a while.
Nick Montano 00:46
Louis Goodman 00:49
Where are you speaking to us from right now?
Nick Montano 00:51
I’m speaking from a beautiful Lafayette, California.
Louis Goodman 00:55
How long have you been in the private investigation business?
Nick Montano 01:01
I was licensed, I’ll never forget this date, I was licensed on December 8th, 1980, and how I remember that date was I came home from the test site up in Sacramento and all they were playing was Beatles songs. And that day, John Lennon was killed in New York city on December 8th, 1980. And that’s how I’ll know that they had my PI license, so 43 years.
Louis Goodman 01:26
Wow. You know, it’s interesting that you mentioned that day because that is the exact same day that I found out that I had passed the California bar exam and was really going to be a lawyer.
Nick Montano 01:37
Wow. It’s amazing.
Louis Goodman 01:39
Where are you from originally?
Nick Montano 01:41
I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I’ve been a lifelong resident of Contra Costa County for my whole career, my whole life.
Louis Goodman 01:49
Can you briefly tell us what your formal educational background is?
Nick Montano 01:54
Sure. So I went to DVC and I studied the criminal justice program. I took some classes up at Sac State. And then I went to the police academy and then I started my career at Clayton PD. And then from Clayton PD, I took over security for Long’s Drug Stores, which is no longer around. And while I was there, one of the owners, one of the brothers said, you know, would you, if you’ve got your PI license, would you come back and do contract work for us? And I did. And that’s what I’ve been doing.
Louis Goodman 02:25
So you were a sworn police officer with Clayton Police Department?
Nick Montano 02:29
Louis Goodman 02:30
How long did you do that?
Nick Montano 02:31
Louis Goodman 02:32
What was it like leaving the police department, which, you know, obviously had, you know, a secure salary, a good benefits program, and then going out on your own? How did that feel? And what prompted you to make that leap?
Nick Montano 02:49
Back in those days, Clayton was a small little town, so we were like, most of the department, we were like over glorified reserves. We got paid when we worked. We didn’t have a lot of benefits. There might’ve been one or two, the chief, but it was kind of a, it was a good stopping point for people to get some training. And I always say it’s, you know, I left there as a division sergeant, but I was just a sergeant of, you know, five other reserve type officers that were all level ones that could work by themselves and affect arrests and all that. But so for me, it was. They’re just a stop off, but so it was no big deal for me to leave that because the money wasn’t that great the way I was working it. But being a loss prevention for corporations was the main force of my money until I became a private investigator.
Louis Goodman 03:39
Tell us a little bit about what sort of work you did in loss prevention and what that work entails.
Nick Montano 03:45
Well, at the time, the big thing in law in retail, as you see now, there’s a lot of issues with retail crime with from the outside. But back in the beginning, there was a lot of internal theft from employees. And so the companies were really worried about internal theft, vendor kickbacks with employees that were giving out contracts, those types of things.
Now it’s, you know, shoplifting has got rampant, as you see in San Francisco and some of the cities. So even though shoplifting was always an issue back then, the big issue for corporations then was employee theft. And so my job was to investigate employees conduct, you know, stealing product. Because you go into Rite Aid right now or CBS, you see one bottle of cough syrup. In the back room, there’s cases. So the employees have a lot more benefit to steal out the back door than a shoplifter would.
Louis Goodman 04:47
Do you have any specific interesting incident along the employee theft investigations?
Nick Montano 04:54
Well, their ability to steal never shocked or amazed me because If they put that effort they used to embezzle from the company into a real job, they’d probably be very successful right now.
Hey, you know, we’ve had, I had cases where people just not ring up their friends. So they work out of an open register. So you’d walk up to the counter, you put your stuff up there, it looked like they were ringing something up. They were. And they’d walk out with a product. No one would ever know unless you were watching the employee. It looked like a legitimate sale. So there was a lot of that going on. And now it’s probably worse than ever because now they don’t care about being arrested. Cause back then the police actually came and arrested shoplifters back in those days.
Louis Goodman 05:43
What did your friends and family say when you said, I want to be a private investigator and I’m going to the private investigation business?
Nick Montano 05:51
Well, most of my friends said, what do you know about investigations? That was a big thing.
Louis Goodman 05:58
Well, what did you know about investigations?
Nick Montano 06:00
Well, I didn’t know much considering because, you know, I was the first bicycle patrol officer at Clayton. In fact, on my wall, there’s a picture of me and while I was on a 10 speed bike wearing shorts, and I never really affected our big arrest or anything back in the day in law enforcement. But I didn’t know a lot about employee theft and rings, employee theft rings. So that part of the investigation I had done down pretty well, as well as interviewing people. And so we, if you know how to interview people, then, and that helped go in the police academy, obviously, but it really helped in solidifying what I was going to do as far as an investigator.
So I think some people were shocked. I did it. I think more people are shocked that I’ve been doing it this long and been successful at it.
Louis Goodman 06:46
Can you give a brief history of your career from, you know, leaving the Clayton police department, working at Long’s Drugs to running this very successful private investigative firm that you run today?
Nick Montano 07:01
Well, you know, I started in, of course, in the eighties and as you know, in the eighties, there was a lot of drugs and there was a lot of criminal defendants who had a lot of cash. And I got to work with a lot of great criminal defense lawyers, obviously the late Fred Reamer, a great criminal defense lawyer, Tony Serra, Michael Stepanian, I mean, just some great guys. And I learned a lot, but I just did the criminal defense part of my career a short period of time because I realized that the federal government was coming down on where these people are getting the money to pay the lawyers, investigators. And I didn’t want to get caught up in some scandal like that.
So I just started focusing towards the white collar corporate type of crimes where former and United States attorneys were representing corporations or CEOs accused of crimes and helping them uncover the truth. Cause all we do as investigators, all I really care about is the truth. I really don’t look at people’s guilt or innocence.
The truth is the truth. And that will prevail in these cases.
Louis Goodman 08:12
What typically do you do for an attorney?
Nick Montano 08:16
Well, you know, it’s funny you say that because I speak a lot of these colleges and I’ve spoken at a few of the schools of law in the Bay area. And I was on the board of John F. Kennedy School of Law Enforcement.
I don’t think they, in law school, they really teach lawyers how to use investigators. And I say that because A lot of times they don’t bring me in until almost the last minute. And had they been taught different, they would have brought me in the very beginning. And there’s really no part of the law, whether it’s probate law, criminal law, environmental law that they don’t need some type of investigator.
And so when I speak to law students, first, second, third year law students, I tell them that the best thing they can do is create a relationship with an investigator. He’s just another tool in their bucket that they can use and it makes it a lot easier. You’re looking for a witness and you tell me a week before as opposed to telling me a day before.
That’s the part about working with attorneys that you have to kind of train them on how to use you. And then once they use you, they always continue to use you, which is a great thing. Because obviously they’re smart and they know the law. They just need to know there’s other people that can help them.
Louis Goodman 09:31
So can you be specific about some of the kinds of things that you’ve done for attorneys or with attorneys that would be helpful to an attorney, who doesn’t really understand the use of an investigator?
Nick Montano 09:46
Well, the main thing is interviewing witnesses. So a lot of times attorneys want to be there and see how the witnesses are gonna perform, how they’re gonna respond but they can’t put themselves on the stand. So they need you, an investigator, to be the third party they could put on the stand and say, Hey, didn’t Louis say this, and didn’t Louis say that? Cause they can’t put themselves up there. A lot of times. The attorneys are looking for witnesses that they don’t really know where to find. How do we find these witnesses I need for my case?
So when I work closely with attorneys, it’s because we’re either interviewing witnesses or trying to develop a theory of the case and who might have that information I could go out and elicit it from. So it’s never, every case is different.
Louis Goodman 10:34
What’s your experience been like in working with attorneys? I mean, do you enjoy working with attorneys?
Nick Montano 10:40
Yeah. Most of my friends are attorneys and, you know, I had great times with attorneys. And I think if the attorney respects you as a non attorney, as an investigator, but you’ve got to remember I’ve worked with some of the best legal minds in the world. I’ve worked all over the world. I’ve been in Africa, I’ve been in Europe, New York, Chicago. So I’ve got to work with some of the greatest attorneys in the world. And I’ve taken a little bit from each of those attorneys and I can bring it to an attorney that might not had that experience.
You know, I had a great case with a civil RICO. A lot of people, attorneys don’t even know about civil RICO. I learned about a civil RICO case that this attorney handled. And then we use that civil RICO in an employment law case, which was unheard of that you’re using a civil RICO case against a claimant in employment law. So that’s how I can help it. As long as the attorney doesn’t have an attitude that they know more than I do, which they probably do. But I do know a lot of people that have a lot of great ideas and I take those ideas and try to bring them to the table.
Louis Goodman 11:47
What can we as attorneys do to improve our working relationship with investigators?
Nick Montano 11:54
I would say that main thing is bring him into the case in the very beginning. One of my dear friends, late Fred Remer, criminal defense lawyer, he used to bring me in when he interviewed the, the client about the case so that I could ask questions that I thought might be relevant.
And it helps if you have two people that are asking questions about the case, you know, what did the police do, who do you think the informant might be, those types of questions. So I think bringing them in the very beginning of the case is always helpful. And even if you don’t use them, at least you had someone to bounce something off of.
And you know, I have attorneys call me about, you know, what my opinion is about something and they might not use me on that particular case. They’ll bring me in on the next case.
Louis Goodman 12:39
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
Nick Montano 12:42
Probably underestimating that paralegals, investigators, people in the law practice that aren’t practicing attorneys do have a lot of intrinsic value to bring and help you in a case.
And whether it’s their life experience or whether it’s another case they had with another lawyer, whatever it might be, Louis, when I go out and interview somebody, I don’t care if I talk to the janitor or I’m talking to the CEO, I treat everybody with respect. And I leave my ego at the door because I don’t have any greater knowledge or even greater of anything that these people don’t have, but they might have something I need to make the case.
And I don’t really care how we win as long as we win.
Louis Goodman 13:26
What sort of mistakes do you think investigators make?
Nick Montano 13:28
I think they sometimes think they know more than the attorneys. I think there’s investigators out there that think they know how to, they’re way of thinking might not be consistent with the attorney, but the attorney is a quarterback. He’s the one who’s everything on the line and the investigator has to kind of defer to him or her in those areas because he’s the one that’s going into court arguing the case, the investigator’s not. So, I mean, you have to know where you are in the food chain, and the attorneys are the ones that have the most to lose by not performing in court.
Louis Goodman 14:06
What sort of technology are you using these days and how has that changed since you first started into the business?
Nick Montano 14:13
Wow. With this new ChatGPT, that’s gonna be, I don’t know what’s gonna happen with that artificial intelligence. Back in the day, you just needed a video camera, 35 millimeter camera, and now there’s a whole, you have to have knowledge of the internet, you have to have knowledge of, you know, software, you have to have knowledge of apps. And what I tend to do is I hire that out because they have a lot of young people that know everything about artificial intelligence. I don’t need to relearn the wheel or make the wheel. So I like to hire young people that are, they’ve been exposed to that a lot sooner than I have and let them carry the ball for that particular area.
But one thing’s never changed in investigation field is I always felt that women make better investigators than men.
Louis Goodman 15:02
Oh, why’s that?
Nick Montano 15:02
And most of the people I use are female investigators. Because I can put a woman in any situation and undoubtedly someone will talk to them, but I can’t always put a male in that same situation.
I just had a case last Saturday, custody battle. The father was going to take their children to the zoo, two little kids, to a children’s zoo. Well, if I were to send a male investigator to that children’s zoo without a child, he’d probably be arrested where a female would not be even a female with no children in which I sent because the environment is just indicative of where a woman would be in a place where there’s children, where a man, a single male adult shouldn’t be without someone, you know, raising the flag. And they’re just more intuitive. And I just feel they’re just more, their, their ego is not egos on the back burner.
My, both my daughter worked for me as investigators when they’re going to college. I use them as, as props. I’d be out in Hawaii, filming somebody surfing that had a bad back. They thought I was filming my daughters on the beach who were like eight and 11. And I got great video using my daughters as a props.
So I’ve always been partial to female investigators because I just feel that I, they’re a lot more adaptable, I guess, be the word.
Louis Goodman 16:35
So this filming on the beach in Hawaii, this is kind of like an insurance fraud kind of case?
Nick Montano 16:39
Workers comp fraud, which was big back in the day. And it was the biggest now, but I kind of started my, I cut my teeth on workers comp cases where people claim they couldn’t lift something and we catch them lifting weights in their front yard or playing basketball.
And they said they had a bad back. And, you know, that, I mean, I’ve done sexual, I mean, there’s not, there’s not a case I haven’t done except maybe an airplane crash or a boating incident. But other than that, there’s not a lot of cases I haven’t done.
Louis Goodman 17:07
Would you recommend being a private investigator or a young person thinking about a career choice?
Nick Montano 17:13
I do and I have, when I speak at the colleges where they’re teaching criminal justice classes and people talk about going to law enforcement. I tell them they might want to look in the private sector. One, it’s safer. And two, we make a lot more money. Well, some of us make a lot more money than most police officers, so. Or chiefs of police for that matter.
But I tell them all the time that it’s a wide range of investigation experience you’ll get that you might not get in the police department. You might be in patrol for 5 or 10 years, for all you know.
Louis Goodman 17:46
Do you think having some law enforcement background is helpful before going into the private investigation business?
Nick Montano 17:56
I have used former FBI, DEA, IRS well trained law enforcement people, and sometimes without that badge, they don’t know how to talk to people, meaning that when an IRS knocks on your door or the DEA knocks on your door, they flash that badge, people tend to talk. When you don’t have that badge and you’re knocking on the door as a private citizen like myself, they can just tell you, get the hell off my doorstep.
So a lot of times people that have been long term in law enforcement have a hard time adjusting to the fact that people aren’t as scared of them. But I do think some investigative experience helps. If you can leave, like I said, your ego at the door and realize that you’re not a former FBI agent anymore, you are a civilian with a great background, great report writing skills, great interviewing skills. You’d have to kind of sell yourself as just an everyday man.
Louis Goodman 18:57
How has actually been an investigator met or differed from your expectations about it?
Nick Montano 19:02
Well, I think it turned out to be a really great career. I don’t know anything else I would do if I hit the lotto tomorrow, I would still do this. You go to bed not knowing what you’re going to do when you wake up in the morning. And that’s really the enticing value to it. Much like being in law enforcement, you never wake up in the morning knowing what you’re going to do the next day and whether you’re going to make it home or not in law enforcement nowadays.
I didn’t want to get bored, and I think if I would have worked in some other field, I would have been bored. And this one’s not boring at all.
Louis Goodman 19:36
How about the business of investigations? You know, you run a business like a lot of attorneys. We are attorneys and we go to court and we have clients and we know the law, but we also have to run the business of a law firm. How has the business of running a private investigation firm gone for you and how have you developed that?
Nick Montano 19:58
Well, I’ve always been a big purveyor of hire the experts, you know, you hire a CPA, you hire a good lawyer, you hire people around you that are professionals. And that way you don’t really have to worry about the day to day.
I mean, I get clients all the time. I mean, every day my phone rings. And I know how to do the work. I know how to do the billing, but you still have to pay taxes. You still have office overhead. You still have to control your money to live another day. So you have to know a little bit about business. But for the most part, even when I started out and I had no money, I still used a CPA-type of bookkeeper person. And to this day, I still use those professionals.
Louis Goodman 20:45
What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Nick Montano 20:48
On a financial note, there was a, I always, I have a half a dozen billionaire clients over my career, and I still got two or three of them. And one billionaire told me if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t own anything. He had a house on Pebble Beach, he had a jet, he had houses all over Europe. And he goes, old Italian guy said, Nick, the best thing to do, don’t own a damn thing. He goes, because you got to worry about fixing the window, fixing the plumbing, just lease everything you can.
And although I don’t lease anything but my company cars now I don’t, but I did when I started my business is always just depend on somebody else for your equipment. Don’t go buy a camera when there’s somebody that has all the latest and greatest cameras, because I did that. I probably got five or six video cameras I don’t even use anymore because they’re obsolete.
So I think the best advice I ever got is don’t purchase anything of value in your business, because you’re going to, it’s going to change. And it has changed. And so I tend not to, I’m not the guy that goes out and buys a new iPad or new laptop just because they come out. I let somebody else worry about that stuff.
Louis Goodman 22:01
What advice would you give to a young person just starting out in the field of private investigation?
Nick Montano 22:06
Well, I would tell them, him or her, they really need to be a people person. And we’re a lot of the investigators back in the day went to most of the PI association type meetings. I didn’t, I went to the ABA type situation, the American Bar Association, but I was on a committee, probably the only non lawyer that was ever on a committee for the American Bar Association.
I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of people that were my competitors. I wanted to hang out with the people that are going to be my clients, and I think that’s what put me ahead of a lot of my counterparts out there is because I started out with lawyers. I started out with lawyers, going to lawyer conventions, hanging out with lawyers.
I didn’t hang out with PIs. I might have had maybe half a dozen friends that are PIs, but They usually work for me. I don’t really, I can’t remember the last PI association I went to, but I belonged to like 30 of them because I support them.
Louis Goodman 23:12
So your networking with lawyers has really paid off for you?
Nick Montano 23:16
Paid off tremendously. Yeah, very, very much so. And it does every day.
Louis Goodman 23:22
You have a perspective on the legal system. That’s a little bit different than that of an attorney. Do you think the legal system is fair?
Nick Montano 23:31
I don’t think it’s fair to the sense that I, I’ve worked on cases where people had a lot of money and I worked on cases where people didn’t have very much money. And if you have a lot of money, I do think you’ll get a better outcome in the justice system. I think it is skewed towards money can buy you the best lawyers, the best investigators, the best forensic accountants, that someone of a lesser economic background can afford. I think that’s just the way it is. It’s unfair and it’s unjust, but it’s just the way it is.
Louis Goodman 24:05
What’s your family life been like and how has doing investigative work affected that? And how has your investigative work fit into your family life?
Nick Montano 24:15
Well, as I told you earlier, my two daughters, when they were young, they used to go out on surveillance with me. And so I think I had a lot of bonding experience with my daughters. We still laugh about some of the cases we did together. And even though they’re in their forties now, we’ve had some great times laughing about, they accused me of having, you know, violating child labor laws because I took them eight hour surveillance is about, but my comeback was, wait, we are in Hawaii though. We are in Disneyland.
Louis Goodman 24:45
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have? Things that you like to do to get your mind off of work once in a while?
Nick Montano 24:52
Well, I have a great dog and we got a great dog during the pandemic. And so we take the dog out hiking and, you know, Sausalito and different places. And I still like to play golf once in a while when I have chance, but really it’s been in time with my family and my dog is kind of my pursuits now. And my grandkids, four grandkids, so I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s kind of my life blood. I don’t really work anymore for myself. I’m kind of already established, but I think about my grandkids. They’re going to need money. They’re going to need college.
So what I, everything I make now really is really put away for them, so. I basically work it for my grandkids.
Louis Goodman 25:33
What keeps you up at night?
Nick Montano 25:34
The amount of crime that has perpetrated nice areas. I mean, people getting robbed in Danville, Lafayette, Walnut Creek for Rolex watches. The judge in Oakland got robbed in the middle of the street. A judge in the middle of the street in the middle, 8:30 in the morning. I don’t know what’s happening. I just don’t know what’s happening. And it really concerns me that we can’t go enjoy the things we used to enjoy because there’s a crime element out there.
Louis Goodman 26:01
What if you came at the 3 or 4 billion dollars? What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Nick Montano 26:07
I would probably do what I’ve helped a couple of lotto winners do. I have a couple of lotto winners. One, 130 million, one, 1458 million. And probably the first thing I’d do is hide out, you know, change my address and change because those people get bugged all the time when they win that kind of money.
But I mean, I would, you know, my big causes always are children’s and the rights of women and minorities. So I’d probably find some way to funnel some exceeding wealth to those organizations.
Louis Goodman 26:40
Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world you could change, legal world or otherwise, what would that be?
Nick Montano 26:46
I would probably change the way people treat each other.
Louis Goodman 26:49
If you had 60 seconds on the Super Bowl, Super Bowl ad, what would you want to say to that enormous audience?
Nick Montano 26:57
To be kind to each other, to respect each other, to look at that woman that you might have abused, that’s someone’s daughter. That’s someone’s little girl.
I don’t care if she’s 80 or she’s 8. That’s someone’s daughter. That judge, that poor woman in the inner cities, loves her children as much as the person in Beverly Hill loves her children. And when you see these things on TV, where there are people and they’re showing these tribes in Africa where the kids are starving to death, it’s no different than a mother in Walnut Creek if she didn’t have enough money for her to feed her child. That mother feels that burden as bad as a woman in Walnut Creek, California. And we just have to realize that there are people out there that have the same issues, the same drive, the same compassion as we do. It just, they’re in a different area of their life and they can’t really do anything about it.
You know, we were fortunate to be born in the United States of America. Some people aren’t that fortunate. I would say all those things twice over. Therefore, I take 60 seconds.
Louis Goodman 28:06
If someone wants to contact you, Nick, perhaps to engage your services as an investigator, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Nick Montano 28:15
Probably go to my website, www.nickmontano.com.
Louis Goodman 28:21
So, I can go to Nick, N I C K, Montano, M O N T A N O dot com? Okay.
Nick, is there anything you want to talk about that we have not discussed? Anything you want to put out there? Anything at all?
Nick Montano 28:36
No, I think this is a great format you have, and I hope there’s a lot of lawyers that listen, and I hope these lawyers take anything I said to them with some clarity, but I do think there’s some really good investigators out there that they should try to connect with and help make their case a lot easier. And it’s a lot of fun. It’s always fun when you’re palling around with somebody, you know? So I, as I said, I like, I love having lawyers buddies cause we can talk about cases and strategize and even though I’m not a lawyer, I think I’ve had enough experience being around lawyers that I feel that I have some knowledge, some knowledge base.
Louis Goodman 29:12
Nick Montano, thank you so much for joining me today on The Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Nick Montano 29:19
Thank you, Louis. Thank you for having me.
Louis Goodman 29:22
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Nick Montano 30:02
We can go on for days on that, and I just cannot figure for the life of me out.