(What’s it like on the front line supporting the firm’s clients?  What are the challenges the firm’s experts help senior business executives, general counsel, board members and other decision-makers address?  Welcome to ACTION WEDNESDAY.  Every Wednesday, the Front Line Blog publishes a new case study.)

First, there were financial irregularities at the cemetery. Then human bones were discovered strewn about the grounds. When the first task force of law enforcement investigators arrived at the scene, they discovered that hundreds of graves had been excavated, the remains unceremoniously dumped, and the gravesites resold for cash. Within hours, authorities declared the site a crime scene and shut down operations.

Grave-Tampering: A Mix of Disrespect – and Urgency

The community was outraged and anguished. The city’s health department was in high gear. And clamor from the press reached a fever pitch. The cemetery soon declared bankruptcy. When the court appointed a receiver, it selected a religious charity that had quietly stepped forward to take responsibility for re-interring the mistreated remains. Unaccustomed to the harsh glare of the national spotlight that follows television news teams, criminal investigators and yellow crime tape, the receiver tapped a trusted advisor, Hillard Heintze, for assistance.

Seeking Answers: The Receiver Asks for Support

For many years, Hillard Heintze has served as a fair, ethical and impartial investigator for religious organizations of various orders across the country on issues ranging from the investigation of decades-old accusations of sexual abuse to strategic due diligence and background investigations of priests and clerics either accused of a crime or earmarked for appointment to national positions of leadership. Supporting this particular receiver was a natural extension of these relationships. For nearly a year, Hillard Heintze served as the receiver’s liaison with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies investigating the crimes at the cemetery. During the same time period, Hillard Heintze also provided strategic, tactical and fundamental support, counsel and private investigative services to the receiver on a number of related fronts.

Impact on the Client: A Renewal of Order – and Respect

Crises – by definition – are nearly always marked by urgency and chaos. Planning helps. So does the presence of advisors who understand how to gently guide the client toward their goals, with minimal interference, distraction and challenge. By this benchmark and others, Hillard Heintze served the receiver with integrity and distinction.

Unplugged: The Project Manager’s Perspective

“This was a high-profile case. And I think a good portion of the value we provided to the client was in buffering them from the drama on a day-to-day basis. If not hour-to-hour. By serving as the receiver’s representative to key law enforcement constituencies, we helped to both streamline the external investigative process and preserve the client’s ability to carry out their organizational mission – and their legal duties, as assigned by the bankruptcy court – in a productive manner.”

 The ACTION WEDNESDAY Tool Box: Three Key Take-Aways

1.  The Law Enforcement Investigator Doesn’t Work for You: When a crime occurs in your organization or on  your premises, recognize that your interests extend beyond criminal investigative fact-finding and prosecution.  Law enforcement authorities will be singularly focused on their mission – and uncovering violations of laws and their perpetrators.  They are not focused on your interests – like keeping you abreast of the investigation’s progress or sharing information with you that could help you remediate or address other areas of risk or exposure in your organization.

2.  Authorities Do, However, Sometimes Have Latitude in Their Protocols That Can Benefit You: Within the constraints of the law and their duties, criminal investigators do at times have flexibility in certain facets of their activities.  If their relationship with you is positive, you are more likely to benefit from various types of permissible professional discretion.

3.  Engaging a Third-Party Strategic Advisor as Law Enforcement Liaison Can Be Beneficial: We encounter this over and over again.  When we are engaged to represent and advise a corporate or nonprofit client concerned about a criminal act involving their people, property, performance or reputation, our law enforcement background, networks, and experience help us advise our clients on multiple fronts while quickly establishing rapport with law enforcement authorities with whom we share a common base of training, knowledge and expertise.

grave tampering