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The Thrill of the Hunt

Edward Frost ’73 knows exactly where to look to uncover the juiciest facts.

By Andrea Juncos ’01

Profile_frost_edward.jpgMost of us know how to dig up a few facts about someone online. But for corporate private investigator Edward Frost ’73, Google is a gold mine—and just one of the many tools he uses to track down information needed to crack a case.

Frost is a senior director with Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), a global professional services firm headquartered in Manhattan. A self-described “sucker for startups,” he joined the firm in June 2011 to build its new business intelligence services group, bringing more than 30 years of experience as a private investigator (PI) and a legal journalist. His assignments include fraud investigations; witness development; asset searches; and back-ground checks of executives and companies before mergers, acquisitions, or financing deals.

One of his recent projects involved an early-stage company whose owners had hired a team of brokers they found online to help them raise $50 million. Many months and broken promises later—and after the company owners had advanced $1 million of earnest money—they turned to A&M to check the brokers out. The company gave Frost the names of several people from around the world involved in the loss—people it thought might have the money. But court files and public records told a different story: two were in foreclosure, another had just filed for bankruptcy, and documents tied others to financing scams and criminal convictions—including running a drug ring.

“It was unbelievable that this group of bad people could all get involved in the same deal by coincidence,” Frost says. “I remember sitting at my computer and coming up with that federal drug indictment and conviction and . . . my jaw literally dropped open, and I thought, ‘What?! Are you kidding me?’” Needless to say, his report to the European firm concluded that it would not be likely to recover any funds from these suspects.

But Frost’s eureka moments don’t always happen in front of his computer. He ran his own PI firm before joining A&M, and in one case, he and two ex-NYPD cops were staked out in front of a New York City pharmacy. He was trying to determine if the store was connected to another pharmacy that had closed shop and disappeared without paying a supplier several million dollars it owed. The supplier’s lawyer hired Frost to find out where the original business owners went, and whether they had any assets his client could collect.

When the pharmacy closed for the day and put its trash out on the curb—where it is legally considered public property—Frost and his team grabbed it. He lugged 20 garbage bags home to his basement and spent a weekend rummaging through refuse and taping torn documents back together. The papers revealed that the two pharmacies were in fact in business together. “[I] don’t do dumpster diving much,” he laughs, “but every now and then it really pays off.”

For Frost, the search itself is just as exciting as the outcome. “I really don’t care what I’m looking for . . . I just love the hunt,” he says. He thrives on following paper trails and analyzing complex patterns to pinpoint where stories don’t match up, and where he needs to delve deeper. The really valuable info, he says, is inside people’s heads. “You get clues and red flags on paper, but if you really want to know what happened, you have to talk to people.”

Over the years, he’s learned who is most likely to talk and how to get them to open up. “Former employees crack cases,” he says. “They know everything.” Among other interviewees he hopes to get on the phone are salespeople, whom he describes as “incredible extroverts,” and Midwesterners, who “like to talk to strangers.” He’s mastered the ability to read subjects quickly to assess what approach to take. “About 10 minutes into every call, people say, ‘Wait a minute, what’s this about again?’ And that’s your tipping point. If they go forward, you’re on the phone for an hour; if they don’t, you’re done.”

Frost originally honed his interviewing and investigating skills as a journalist. He recalls being bitten by the news bug soon after college, when he landed a reporting job with an Upper West Side paper. From there, his 15-year tenure as a reporter and editor included positions with the Associated Press, the New York Daily News, and the National Law Journal. He later took his love of deadlines and documents to a career in private investigating, spending 13 years with the Mintz Group in Manhattan, and opening his own firm in 2008.

It’s a career path Frost describes as somewhat circuitous, governed by two themes: Joseph Campbell’s philosophy “Follow your bliss,” and Norman Mailer’s “Step into your fear.” The seasoned PI whose heart once raced before every phone interview now relies on intuition to determine when something “just doesn’t smell right.” “Half the job is to get the experience, and the other half is to listen to your stomach.”

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