By Patrick Markey
She might not wear a trilby and a knee-length trenchcoat, but Orla Walsh has more in common with the fictional private detective Mike Hammer than the casual observer might notice.
Working out of her small home office in Queens, the Dublin-born Walsh’s private investigation company, Walsh Consulting Services Inc., offers a selection of sleuthing services from background checks to investigating limping insurance scammers.
Despite her profession’s glamorous image, it’s been a struggle for Walsh to establish herself in a business often fraught with legal pitfalls and tough competition from large companies whose ranks are filled with well-connected former cops.
Armed with a computer, a fax machine, some video equipment and a sprinkling of city contacts, WCS has started making headway, picking up a steady client base here and, in some cases, in Ireland, Walsh said.
Almost 10 years ago, Walsh little realized she would one day be trawling through New York City’s underbelly tracking down paper trails left by fraudsters. Arriving from Dublin in 1986 looking for a new start, she worked in restaurants as a means of getting by. But a chance meeting at the restaurant led to a part-time position at a detective agency run by Irishman John O’Rourke, a former investigator with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
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“I fell into,” she said. “I’ve always been curious, seeing more into things. At the time I wanted to go into law and this is a cross between the legal side and law enforcement.”
After a stint at another agency, Web Securities, Walsh had completed the three-year full-time investigative work and the exams necessary for a P.I.’s state-issued license and was on the way to starting up her own company. WCS came to life in January this year.
For an average of $50 to $60 an hour, Walsh now provides background checks on civil and criminal cases, finds witnesses for civil and criminal cases, conducts background checks on companies and possible employees, and investigates real estate residency claims.
Recently, she says, more cases can be worked out simply with a few taps on a computer keyboard. Industry pricing for investigations ranges from $40 for smaller companies to somewhere in the $250 an hour range for larger detective agencies, she said.
For technical work, such as electronic sweeps for debugging offices, and polygraph testing, Walsh sub-contracts out to experts in those fields, including a roster of former NYPD and DEA investigators.
But, she says, chasing straying husbands or tracking overly amorous wives is not for her.
“I don’t do marital stuff, I don’t touch it,” she said. “You don’t hear the full story, and often you end up getting so personally involved. You don’t know if you doing the right thing.”
One of the more lucrative aspects of the business has been surveillance for defense attorneys in insurance cases. More often than not, injuries are not quite what they seem.
“That can be quite fruitful. About 85 percent of the time, you find out people are scamming,” she said.
In the legal world, where women are increasingly stepping up the corporate ladder, Walsh believes being a woman has been an advantage. Communication between attorney and investigator can be smoothed by a better understanding of some of the issues involved, she said.
Working in a profession that is often criticized for its sleazy associations, Walsh said investigators need a confident understanding of law and of the legal entanglements an investigation can led to.
“I want to stay ethical. Some people let down their guards when the money looks good. You have to be careful,” she said. “You have to know the legal issues. A lot of people don’t keep up with the regulations.”
But more than that, it is an eye for detail that can make or break an investigator.
“Getting results, getting a result on someone,” she said of what drives her on in the investigating profession.
“You can spend thousands on a case and it’s the little piece of information can get a person, that can be the crucial part of the case,” she said.
WCS can be contacted at (718) 424-8380.