By Adam Visnic, President of Gravitas Investigations
About a decade ago, I was hired (and went undercover) to catch a workers’ comp claimant who was suspected of defrauding the insurance system. This seemed to be a standard case—my client hires me to catch this employee of hers who’d just injured his shoulder on a construction job. And there were rumors from other employees that he wasn’t quite telling the truth.
When we dug into his social media profile we found he had been an amateur “powerlifter” and was posting pictures that he was still heavily involved in weightlifting. And so, each day he was receiving up to two-thirds of his paycheck despite never actually working, and my job was to help the client eliminate those losses.
In order to catch him, I did a few days of surveillance on the guy and attempted to get compromising video of him working out. But it wasn’t fruitful. The guy was a nomad—his family lived out of state where he’d frequently visit, so I couldn’t pinpoint his location day to day.
So, after looking through the internet back to front and front to back, I finally tracked down his email address, which he used for a Craigslist ad—he was advertising powerlifting lessons. This was the perfect opportunity to get evidence on the guy. But how could I pull this off without him catching on? I’d never gone undercover before.
Well, I wouldn’t be a PI if I didn’t accept the challenge.
The Undercover Route!
So, I placed a phone call to the number provided on his Craigslist post. And he answered.
He seemed to be a nice guy over the phone—we talked for a while and set up the first session. We planned to meet at his uncle’s construction business for our first workout. The trap was set. I was going undercover.
Two days later, I headed over to meet him—but when I arrived on-site, I noticed this wasn’t your average home gym. Instead, it was basically a junkyard with construction debris, leftover parts from old equipment, huge tires laying around, and of course a ton of barbells and dumbbells everywhere. I hadn’t slept well the night before and now I’m starting to get nervous. I pulled into the lot and got out of my car looking around for him. I was a little uneasy.
Mini-Me Version of the Rock
And then I see him. Now, I’d seen him before on stakeouts, but instead of wearing normal clothes, this time he’s wearing an a-style shirt, also known as a white wife-beater. He’s got black serpentine tattoos all over his body, a beard, and a freshly-shaved head—intimidating, to say the least. But, he’s only 5’7″. Pretty average height. He’s like a mini-me version of The Rock. But I noticed one thing—he had these pink shoelaces. Which was odd, but I took it to mean he had a soft side.
And this dude had already worked up a sweat, and the top of his forehead glistened. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sweating as well, but not because I’d been warming up. I looked him in the eye, reached out my arm, and we shook hands. I introduced myself.
He introduces himself, and says “let’s get to work.”
The Moment I Knew
The truth is, it’d be a more interesting story if I was some scrawny guy who had never lifted in his life and I just get destroyed by this guy’s workout. But the opposite was closer to the truth. This is kind of the moment I felt like I was born to do not just do this case, but to be a private investigator.
You see, I’d been lifting weights for months on my own, and once upon a time, I was a college athlete. So, by the time we started the first lift, I was ready. I was no fraud. Our first exercise was Power Hang Cleans with 200 lbs.
For perspective, lifting 200 pounds in that motion would rip off the average person’s shoulders. So, it surely would have resulted in excruciating pain for someone who claimed they had just separated their shoulder. But that’s where we started, just for warm-ups. This guy didn’t hold back. He was intense. And he showed no signs of injury. Rep after rep. And so, we’re both lifting this weight.
Eventually, we moved on to 500-pound tire flips, and then deadlifts, and then rows. He’s actually cheering me on. And I think he respected that I could lift with him, and not pass out. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, this would make for great video evidence. My eyewitness testimony won’t do any good.
(story continues below)
The Smoking Gun
How was I going to bust this guy? How was I going to get video of this?
Usually, I’d use some sort of covert camera in this situation. But I couldn’t use it for the risk of getting caught. So, my genius plan was just to ask the guy maybe during our next session, if I made it through this one. But, towards the end of the lesson, in this serious voice, he calls me over and sits me down face to face.
I think I’m caught. I get a little nervous. But he asks: “Why do you want to power lift?”
And in my most sincere voice, I said I played slow-pitch softball in this very competitive league and that someday I wanted to be the best player. I mentioned that in order to compete with guys who were on the juice and who were powerlifters and could hit balls softball 500 feet, I needed to be stronger.
He bought it.
Then, we talked for about 30 more minutes on nutrition, supplements, and form. I just listened. I realized he just wanted someone to train with. A friend.
So, that’s what gave me the courage to bring in my regular camera during our 2nd session and ask if I could roll some tape. My exact words were “You wouldn’t mind if I…you know…videotaped us working out, would you? Just to look at my form and stuff?”
He says, “No problem. You gonna put it on YouTube or something?”
I say, “Yeah, something like that.”
I set up my camera on a table in the corner of the room and we continued our powerlifting session. For the next two sessions, we’re doing bench press and all sorts of shoulder exercises. Then we do a whole day of leg workouts with squats and straight leg deadlifts.
He’s still not showing signs of injury, and my video is rolling the whole time. Afterward, I shook his hand and we parted ways and I never saw him again. He didn’t even charge me for the sessions. He was a really nice guy. But, once I gathered the evidence, pulled together a detailed report, and presented the to the client, we used it to prove that this guy was abusing his work restrictions.
The claim gets settled for pennies, so the client was happy, my boss was happy.
The moment that I realized that this was kind of a legendary story was when about a decade after this happened, I’m at this business conference. And, I’m chatting it up with some salespeople—some of whom are from the company I worked at when I did this case.
By this time, I have my own business. I tell this one salesperson I’m a private investigator, and this is true, she looks me in the eye and tells me the exact story I just told you. The two of us had never met before and she’s using my story to start a conversation.
I just ask, “Have you ever met the PI who did that case?”
She says, “No, he left the company before I did.”
And I just reach over, extend my hand, and say, “Well, now you have.”
The look on her face was priceless.
About the Author
Adam Visnic, President of Gravitas Investigations, has been finding facts, mitigating risk, and solving complex problems for his clients for nearly twenty years. He founded Gravitas Investigations in 2015 and is a licensed private investigator in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Previously, he was a contract Special Investigator conducting national security background investigations for several federal government agencies. He completed a Master’s degree in Safety, Homeland Security, and Emergency Management in 2016 and graduated from Eastern Kentucky University’s Criminal Justice program in 2005. Adam enjoys spending time with his wife and three children, working out, playing slow-pitch softball, and reading.
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