It was gut-check time. With an off-duty, armed Judicial Investigation Police officer backing him up, the private investigator fronted two Colombian hit men sent to kill one of his clients. In a restaurant, he told the would-be assassins in harsh language to get out of the country the next day or face the wrath of law enforcement.
This is the story told by Doug Smith, the U.S. citizen and Vietnam veteran who runs WillSpy, private eye outfit based in San José.
You drop the bomb on them and you tell them the new rules, he said of his talk with the Colombians. If they even cough, you take them down there and you do not let them get their hands above the table.
The Colombians, he said, left the country the next day.
Smith and a handful of other private investigators, a profession entirely unregulated in Costa Rica, offer these and other services.
Smith may just be the most in-your-face of them.
I ve developed special sources of information, he said. I kiss a lot of ass and I get access to information I m really not supposed to have legally.
Smith started his Willspy business in Costa Rica three years ago and offers a wide range of services, from background checks, security analysis, personal protection, surveillance, criminal investigation, real estate investigation and checking on a significant other.
The main reason we are all down here are the ladies, proclaims Smith s Web site. They are great at scamming North Americans, thus our Check-a-Mate service.
For a minimum daily rate of $250, Smith will track down a client s honey, run her background, follow her, find out who else she s sleeping with and where the money the client has been giving her is really going.
That and (home) security analysis are my two most popular services right now, Smith said. With security analysis, I make sure my client gets the best bang for their buck and that they don t get ripped off by local sellers. I like to nail (criminals) with lighting. It looks like a nuclear bomb just hit the front yard 500 watts hit the bad guy and they re frozen like a deer in the headlights and they get the f— out of there.
The PIs have different takes on who makes the best investigator. Smith argues military veterans are the best because of the discipline factor, but Brewer argues civilians are better because they think outside the box.
PIs interviewed by The Tico Times agree Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America but not in the pretty, touristic sense. To them, it is a place where the system is set up for fraud, money laundering and the hiding of assets.
Costa Rica, they say, is a potential paradise for PIs willing to take the risks to ferret out information for their clients, many of whom are investors or foreigners who think they ve found the hooker with the heart of gold.
Those hearts may be golden, the PIs say, but only because their owners are often compulsive gold-diggers.
There s more scam artists in Costa Rica than you can shake a stick at, said private eye Wayne Brewer, who operates out of the U.S. city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, but has available contract staff here as well. The whole country is set up for that and to hide assets. The economy down here would take a serious nosedive if they started to shut down all the scams.
Brewer, who takes about 25 cases a year in Costa Rica, said even he has been a victim.
I used to have a physical office down there, he said. But I ended up shutting it down after I realized the staff started stealing from me.
Cody Gear, a former police chief in two Florida coastal towns, said his PI outfit, based in Rohrmoser, in western San José, handles about 30 cases per year, many of them involving scams perpetrated by women against Gringos.
Guys, particularly older guys, get sucked in by those younger girls and if you ve got a lot of money, it s a temptation and it s flattering, said Gear, who charges a base $95 per hour rate. It s really hard because some of these guys think they ve really fallen in love, and I have to be the one to break it to them and tell them they ve been taken for $60,000.
Gear said 75 percent of his cases are fraud schemes pyramid, Ponzi, advanced fee, affinity.
At this point in my career, there s very little that surprises me, he said. But many Gringos come down here and think it s business as usual.
Smith said it s dangerous working in Costa Rica.
The reason for that is you not only have to deal with the obvious bad guys, you have to keep your head on a swivel from ancillary directions, such as random crack heads and dirty cops, he said.
Smith said the work is not glamorous, as it is made out to be in the movies. It can be excruciatingly boring, in fact.
In the (United) States, you re sitting in cars for hours eating doughnuts and drinking bad coffee, he said. Here, you re eating bad empanadas and drinking good coffee.
Detectives for Hire in Costa Rica
Willspy, Doug Smith, www.willspy.com, cell 8378-5668.
Cody L. Gear and Associates, based in Orlando, Florida, but with satellite office in Rohrmoser, San José, www.codylgearandassociates.com/costarica. html, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wayne Brewer and Associates, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, www.waynebrewer.com, email@example.com.
Investigations Costa Rica, Ron Oling, www.costaricapi.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.