Auto Theft Consultant/Expert Witness
My name is Rob Painter and my email is robo14@aol. com and my business phone is 1-866-490-1673.
My cell phone is 1-903-513-7808.
Before I go into detail about the forensic fraud in my discipline, I thought it appropriate to put up this latest link. This involves the FBI and fraudulent forensics that have put innocent people in jail. The same issue is my area, in which insureds are financially deveastated, or on top of that found guilty of insurance fraud based on smoke and mirrors! If the FBI does it, what is to stop anyone else that titles themself “forensic?” The answer–THIS CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE!
We serve all 50 states opposing the insurance Certified Forensic Locksmiths. We also offer a twist. We also offer our services to insurance companies.
This is a story about the insurance investigator’s use of Certified Forensic Locksmiths determining as to how a reported stolen vehicle was last driven. There are also examples of a legitimate questions as to why this is one of the few fields that apparently does not need an expert representing the insured when performing destructive testing of evidence.
Read and enjoy and feel free to comment. I harbor no bad feelings against these experts, but am just curious as to why they get away with what they do?
The Insurance Investigator’s Foreseen Problem Using a Certified Forensic Locksmith Without Arranging for the Insured to Have Their Own Expert Present at the Ignition Examination:
Of course, this is my thought compared to other types of professional examinations I have performed. I am not a lawyer, but I have been trained on forensic investigation protocol when dealing with destructive testing and evidence.
Any time a forensic examination is performed on the ignition, one way or another it is going to be subjected to destructive testing. What this means, is anything short of just taking photographs or just staring at the ignition lock, is going to involve destructive testing.
The best analogy is that one cannot put the tooth paste back into the tube.
The forensic locksmith as the description of his title says is that he is going to perform what he considers a forensic examination of the ignition lock and possibly the keys to determine as to how a reported stolen vehicle was last driven.
I will go into methodology later and that in itself is very sketchy, but at this moment I will discuss evidence. There are several different methodologies employed in the examination of an ignition lock. One method is much better than the other, but when the examiner does not want to spend the time, he will use the minutes long method instead of the far better method that takes hours. Am I saying the insurance contracted forensic locksmith takes short cuts? All the time! Better yet, there are no standards they employ when examining these vehicles. This would be best described as examination of the hour. I have hundreds of reports from different firms that prove my statement here. Even the same firm, the same forensic locksmith may perform two completely different types of exams, where one reveals more evidence than the other and yet the conclusion is the same. Scientifically, this is impossible, but commonly in court attorneys are only dealing with the report for that specific vehicle, so they don’t have other reports to compare to, that is at least until now!
I had a court case against a Certified Forensic Locksmith (CFL). In his case alone, I have close to 200 of his reports. I put together a spread sheet attempting to find some sort of standardization protocol. My thought was before reviewing these reports possibly he did what I do and fire investigators do by using a check off sheet. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I guess I shouldn’t have.
My spreadsheet was set up into columns of services I would expect repetition. I must paraphrase here because I have the spreadsheets, just not at my fingertips. For this example, I will use 120 reports and what I came across. Forensics as it relates to the CFL employs all known hypotheses as to how the vehicle could be stolen and driven without the insured’s key. Methodology that can be replicated by any other expert in order to reach the same conclusion, if the conclusion is to be specific identifying exactly the specific key last used to drive the vehicle if the ignition lock an anti-theft system had not been breached.
Examination Standards which requires destructive testing:
Vehicles that were recovered not damaged by fire.
Ignition lock—Was the key cut identified? On some.
Was the ignition key inserted in the ignition to function test the lock? (This is destructive testing as well as everything else listed.) On some.
CFLs were trained by me that due to excessive wear which is not always visible by the human eye to watch out for vehicles having over 80,000 miles on them. There are lots of variables with this mileage, but it is a phenomenon that must be considered. Does the key come out in the ON position? Locksmiths were never called out for such a problem., because the ignition was not broken, however the ignition lock no longer had a security effect. The ignition lock could be rotated without the use of a key at all! The lock maker Strattec of Milwaukee was told about this situation from me and set up a robotic test inserting and removing a key in a lock 150,000 times!
An overzealous CFL trying to remove the key in the ON position, could do damage to the back side of the wafers that would not be observed from a lighted magnified scope in the keyway and this damage would not be seen, unless a microscopic examination was performed on the wafers. The scope can only see forward and not backward.
Was the ignition key attempted to be removed from the ignition lock in the on position? On most.
Was the ignition lock removed from the vehicle, disassembled, cleaned and the wafers (tumblers) examined under a microscope? A few.
Did he use a lighted magnified borescope in the keyway to check for signs of any newly made tool marks? On many.
Warning- The lighted magnified scope method in the keyway misses half of what one could determine with a microscopic examination. Magnified photos can be taken of the ignition lock components. A Magnified lighted scope examination that takes minutes compared to hours for a microscopic exam has no photo capability.
Were the keys compared to the wafers for identifiable tool marks? A few.
Was the vehicle checked for forced entry? On some.
Was the factory anti-theft system identified? All.
In the case of a transponder based anti-theft system, was the computer interrogated with a key programmer to determine the number of keys programmed for the vehicle? On some.
Was the vehicle checked for an aftermarket remote start system? 1!
Was the vehicle whole and in one piece? One Mercedes examined was totally chopped with a pile of sheet metal. The steering column was in this mess and without removing the ignition from the steering column and no ability to interrogate the anti-theft system, the conclusion was that the vehicle was last driven with a key of the proper type. How does a forensic locksmith with a vehicle in this condition have any idea as to how the vehicle was even moved? He didn’t and in my view, should have never taken such an assignment!
Were the keys checked for signs of duplication marks? On some.
How many of these reported stolen vehicles did the CFL determine were stolen by means of push/pull theft by examining paint transfer on the bumper? About 5. However, what qualifies a forensic locksmith to opine on a method of theft other than offering conclusions on the ignition?
There was one item he checked consistently in every vehicle, burned and un-burned. He would check the park lock cable to make sure it was connected. In vehicles it was disconnected, burned off or broken, the vehicle in his view no longer was locked in park and could roll.
In the case of this CFL, he had no fire training, no vehicle fire training and yet would make determinations on these vehicles as to how they were last driven. He examined a lot of burned vehicles!
The problem with a burned vehicle is that you are left with half of what you have in a non-burn, but that did not affect the conclusion any!
Many of these vehicles were total burns in which the ignition lock succumbed to the fire and dropped to the driver’s floor from the steering column or dash, wherever it was mounted in that specific vehicle.
Again, we are dealing with destructive testing. Any movement of the driver’s floor debris is altering the evidence forever! The ignition has now transformed to a different state. In most cases wafers have a burned crust attached to them that must be removed to observe any tool marks.
A burned vehicle is a perfect example as to why forensic analysis should not be performed only by the CFL and why an expert representing the insured should be present as well.
Was a key inserted in vehicles with burned ignition locks still located in the mounting origin? No, but on a side note, I have seen CFLs do this and ruing the evidence! As I stated before, there will be a burned crust on the wafer lands (where the key rides when inserted). If a CFL inserts a key, it’s obvious because its gold and shiny where the key went through the keyway! Damage is imminent!
Were the key cuts determined? No.
Were the wafers examined under a microscope? On a couple of occasions. Not commonly.
Were the keys checked for duplication marks? A few.
Was the computer interrogated to determine how many keys were programmed for the vehicle? No! Fire destroyed the computer and associated wiring!
Was the park lock cable checked? On every vehicle.
Were burn vehicles subjected to push/pull theft? About 5.
As you see, much less can be determined on a vehicle with the passenger compartment destroyed by fire. Yet, one thing was almost a constant, just like unburned vehicles and that is the conclusion of which the vehicle was last driven with a key of the proper type!
One such case in Ohio, the CFL expert looked bad when I explained all of this. Bailey v Grange Insurance March 18, 2015 the day I testified. On this vehicle, although the forensic locksmith wrote the report like he had examined the vehicle, the truth was the guy who did examine the vehicle hadn’t worked for the firm for a year and a half! This should cause concern, because the report was written by the owner of the firm, like he was the one at the vehicle. One could argue that this is a fraudulent report meant to deceive.
Beyond that, this vehicle was severely burned. The key is known as a GM 10-cut, which means it is equipped with 9 wafers. This lock however had only one out of nine burned wafers recovered! Yes, it was determined with 1/9th of the evidence that the vehicle was last driven with a key of the proper type. The jury believed me after 4 hours of testimony and the verdict was for $100,000.00. The insured was awarded additional undisclosed monies in a settlement.
Had this forensic lock examination been done properly with the insurance company having their expert and advising the insured to retain their own expert to perform the examination together, this case would have never gone to court!
Now, this expert has a special talent. I gave you an idea as to the slip shod he and all other CFLs perform, this guy can even determine as to how an unrecovered stolen vehicle was last driven without any physical evidence! Yes, he determined the unrecovered stolen Escalade was last driven with a key of the proper type!
The game is rigged against the insured! Starting from the time of the recorded statement, because the insurance company has already deemed the vehicle unstealable with the so-called anti-theft system installed from the factory. By default, because the vehicle is unstealable and couldn’t be stolen, the theft claim turns into a fraud investigation.
In order to prove insured involvement in the claim and to investigate it further, there must be a mechanism to do this. The insurance companies over the years have built a process for this. The investigator hand-picks an “independent” forensic locksmith from the company vendor list. To be a vendor especially something as serious as being a potential expert witness, one would think that the insurance company has vetted the forensic locksmith as to the accuracy of his opinions and conclusions, being the investigator is investigating one of the company’s insured’s. Nope! The investigator uses plausible deniability and blindly relies on their expert! After all, “He’s the expert!”
What makes the CFL so special, in which he can examine a vehicle without the insured being told they should have their own expert present at the time of the examination?
Normally it is standard practice when any type of examination/investigation is going on where there will be destructive testing, whether it is a vehicle recall investigation, a fire investigation or any time that requires evidence to be removed, altered or damaged, to keep everyone honest, there are representatives of all involved present when evidence is being handled.
Let’s say that the forensic analysis involves the potential for concluding that the factory design caused a fire. Let’s say that expert for the insurance company removes what he thought was the potential cause of the fire leading back to the design of the vehicle. Now, since no one from the factory was contacted and destructive testing was performed (any time the evidence cannot be put exactly where it was in a pre-fire condition), the case against the factory probably just went out the window, because the factory rep was not present to see that there was nothing mishandled by the insurance expert to assist his client. The insurance company does not want to pay for that vehicle fire and now they can’t prove that the expert didn’t tamper with evidence or inadvertently done something with the evidence that would have changed the narrative.
In fact, from my experience, forensic locksmiths are the only ones that get to be at the vehicle alone without the insured having their own expert present at the time of the exam!
Insureds may be told there is going to be a forensic examination on their ignition, but never told of the location, date, and time. Insured’s have hired me to represent them when the CFL was going to examine the vehicle, but I have yet to find when I was allowed to be at the vehicle at the time of the exam. One claim, I was instructed to stay 50’ away from the vehicle. Is this a secret proprietary examination with trade secrets? If so, it isn’t forensic or science, because science is not secret! Then immediately, we need to question the validity of this forensic ignition examination!
I had a Mercedes that I suspected the fire was caused by a recall of a leaking power steering rack, with fluid spraying and pooling on the catalytic converter. I noted this in my report a took lots of photos, but disassembled nothing. I recommended the insurance company contact Mercedes before we could go farther. I met with the Mercedes rep at the vehicle. We spent hours under the car taking notes and taking more photos. In this situation, we do not speak to each other about the fire, so we can draw our own conclusions. Now, I had records stating the recall repair had been completed on the vehicle, but this sure had the signature of the recall for the defective steering rack “o” rings. In this case, the Mercedes rep knew more about the recall repair and shared with me that although the recall was performed, it appeared to be the same problem that the car was recalled for. Mercedes ended up paying for the fire damage.
In one of my most memorable fire investigations, in which the insurance company was subrogating against the maker of a camper trailer for causing the fire, there was probably 10 reps from different manufactures present. I was representing the trailer company.
The narrative that the insurance fire investigator came up with was the propane bottles served as blow torches burning the back of the SUV and starting the truck on fire. Instantly, this narrative sounded incorrect to me because the propane tank valves face towards the camper and not the towing vehicle. However, the investigation went on. The camper trailer only had 10% burn damage to it, whereas the vehicle was destroyed. The other problem I had with this, was we were only supposed to investigate the camper in the building and not the SUV parked totally burned outside! Now, had this fire investigator who worked for the insurance company gotten away with his flawed analysis, the camper company would have had to pay for the SUV and his narrative did not happen!
We ended up also examining the SUV against the investigators wishes, but it also assisted in putting a plausible theory to the fire. While the investigators were taking things from the trailer for further destructive testing, we started checking on the weather conditions, and recalls for the vehicle. Here is what we came up with:
There was a drought at the time. Someone flag down the driver of the SUV to tell them they saw lots of white smoke. White smoke is consistent with burning transmission fluid. The vehicle had a recall for cracked transmission cases. The driver parked the vehicle on the shoulder that had grass about 3’ high. A fire was already going from leaking transmission fluid onto the catalytic converter. Flames were on the high grass and a grass fire was going now. The plastic fuel tank succumbed to the fire, which with now the burning grass and spillage of gasoline melted the left rear aluminum wheel and since fire burns upward and outward, the SUV was now engulfed and therefore there was so much damage to the SUV and only 10% to the camper.
Back at the building, propane tanks, the battery and many other things were taken and gathered by the engineer for further testing at his shop. We were all to meet there a couple days later a go over the gathered evidence from the camper.
In= the meantime, I examined the pictures from the fire department on scene. The fire truck was across the road about 100’ down. Both propane tanks were with the fire truck! As stated, the valves faced towards the camper and not the SUV!
When we were at the engineer’s shop, the engineer whispered to the fire investigator and I overheard it: “I can’t find an ignition source!”
The investigator said, “The driver must have thrown out a cigarette!” You have got to be kidding? This fire investigator who had no idea of what he was talking about tried bending the facts. I asked him if he had viewed the Fire department photos and he said not yet!
The fire investigator had an agenda.
When insurance companies have, a forensic locksmith go to the vehicle all alone, it doesn’t matter about the honesty or the word of the forensic locksmith. It’s the optics!
Let’s say that the forensic locksmith claims to have seen some type of tool marks inside the keyway of the ignition. He left the ignition lock with the vehicle. Since he could not verify these marks (subjective) with another expert and he did not remove the ignition for safe keeping of the evidence, how can he protect the lock from having a key inserted or possibly a knife as insurance damage appraisers like to play Colombo determining how the ignition was last rotated?
No forensic locksmith should be allowed to forensically examine a vehicle without the insured being given an opportunity to have their own expert present at the time of the examination.
I have found many times when working for a plaintiff, I am expected to examine the vehicle. Unless I am determining the origin and cause of the fire, there is rarely any point in me examining the vehicle if the ignition components have been removed. The opposing attorney may make a big deal that I didn’t examine the vehicle, but if there is no evidentiary purpose other than to say I wasted my time looking for ignition evidence that had been removed.
If evidence from the ignition from the vehicle has been retained, optics again, one could argue that the forensic locksmith tampered with the evidence to favor his client the insurance company.
Let me push this point a little further. We have a civil claims investigation that has been referred to the prosecution. Now this exculpatory ignition evidence is being retained by the forensic locksmith. Not the police department? Not the crime lab? There is a problem here folks!
Keywords,Auto Theft Expert,forensic locksmithing,key of the proper type,insurance fraud,forensic examination
©Copyright 2017 Rob Painter. All rights expressed and reserved.