Private Investigation

Greg Hilton has to fight a lot of stereotypes when he tells
people he is a private investigator. No, he doesn’t follow around
cheating spouses. No, he doesn’t use a magnifying glass to pour
over scraps of paper pulled from the trash.
Gilroy – Greg Hilton has to fight a lot of stereotypes when he tells people he is a private investigator. No, he doesn’t follow around cheating spouses. No, he doesn’t use a magnifying glass to pour over scraps of paper pulled from the trash. No, he doesn’t stake out businesses in a white plumbing van while conducting surveillance. And he avoids working domestic dispute cases such as divorce and child custody cases at all costs.

“No one is ever happy no matter what work you do,” Hilton said, on cases such as those. “I don’t like the messy situations where kids are involved.”

But Hilton still finds plenty of investigation work in other arenas. More often than not, he does much of his research huddled over a laptop computer in his home office in Gilroy or searching through documents at courthouses throughout the Bay Area.

“Some of the most exciting moments are sitting behind a computer when everything is coming together,” Hilton said.

Hilton, 32, started out as a process server for his father’s investigation firm right out of high school.

He enjoys the adrenaline and action that comes with serving papers to someone who doesn’t want to be served. In one instance, though he wouldn’t name the executive or the corporation, Hilton snuck his way into a venture capitalist’s party, mingling his way toward his target with a tray of hor d’oeuvres.

“I always get my guy,” Hilton said.

Though Hilton helped out from the age of 18 as a process server – someone who serves subpoenas and other legal documents – the road to investigation wasn’t a straight one for him. He started out studying administration of justice, hoping to be a police officer. Then he decided he would be a police sketch artist and headed off to San Francisco to study art.

At the height of the dot.com bubble, Hilton found himself working for a software company, seduced by the money. During the time he worked in the technology industry, Hilton continued to work as a process server on his father’s most challenging cases.

But the lure of investigation drew him back and he took over his father’s business, Hilton Investigations, four years ago. His father, Rick Hilton, and Greg’s wife, Sheila, both work with the family business. Sheila uses her degree in biology to sort through databases.

Hilton takes on as many as 200 new cases a year, and most of the time the company is hired by attorneys as litigation support, especially in civil trials. The investigators help in locating witnesses, Hilton said, for instance, in traffic collision cases where the police reports list no witnesses.

“By the time we get the case, witnesses have moved or changed their names,” Hilton said, who often starts investigating accidents two or more years after they have happened. He sometimes listens to 911 transcripts to search down witnesses based on just a name and a two-year-old cellular phone number.

And once he finds the people he needs to talk to, they are often begrudging witnesses.

“A common theme among witnesses is that they don’t want to be involved,” Hilton said. “They don’t realize how important they can be in a civil or criminal trial.”

Hilton persuades them to testify, and in some instances evens drives witnesses to scheduled court dates, waiting in the hallway with them until they are called to testify to ensure they show up.

Though Hilton cannot talk about any of the cases he has worked on because he is bound by the Private Investigators Act as well as business and profession codes, he said he has worked on cases that have been heard in the South County Courthouse in San Martin all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And he’s worked on plenty of cases involving the city of Gilroy, both on the city’s side and against it.

“We need to remain impartial and unbiased,” Hilton said. “Our job is to find out what the situation is and to report it. Attorneys don’t like surprises.”

Hilton said his reputation hinges on working for both plaintiffs and defendants.

“I love being an investigator,” he said. “Every day is different. There are a broad range of jobs. It’s never the same thing.”

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