Coming from a military family — his father and mother met through the military in World War II and his brother was an Army pilot — Mitcham moved into private investigation after spending a career in Navy and government intelligence.
Working from his home, Mitcham and his two full-time employees — Russ Guidicessi and Brandy Hemby — have made a name for his business, Action Detective Agency. Earlier this month, the Cartersville resident was appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to a four-year term on the Georgia Board of Private Detectives and Security Agencies.
Name: Bart Mitcham
Occupation: Owner, Action Detective Agency
Education: I’ve got a B.S. from the University of Central Oklahoma. I have just a few hours short of a J.D. from Woodrow Wilson Law School. I have a master’s in divinity, a master’s in ministry and a doctorate in ministry.
Family: Wife, Diane, of 33 years.
How did you become a private investigator?
A: Well, as you can see, I was in the military, and I’m a naval intelligence officer. I worked all over, but I worked at [the Defense Intelligence Agency]. I was an interrogator; I commanded the interrogation team. [I] did a lot of investigations, a lot of security. My last job was here in the Atlanta area, but I was deputy commander for security for the Southeast.
The commander of the Southeast United States has deputies of different divisions — like deputy of training, he makes sure all the training is done, and the deputy commander of security made sure, I traveled around to the different bases — Huntsville, Knoxville, Savannah, all these different bases, Fort Gilliam, … Fort McPherson. We’d check their security; we would try to breach their security. We’d check their classified material, make sure there weren’t any breaches. And if there were, or missing documents, stuff, we would do investigations.
My sailor of the year during the first Gulf War is with [Peace Officer Standards and Training] here in Georgia now. He said, “You know what you ought to do, captain?” He said, “You ought to be a private detective.” And, so, I looked into it and got started, really enjoyed it, opened my own agency a couple years ago. … Because of some of the work we’ve done …, the governor just appointed me to the state board.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about private investigators?
A: The biggest misconception is we do what they do on TV, that we investigate murders and that kind of stuff. We do have a wide variety of investigations that we do, a lot of different types, but it’s never solved in a half hour or an hour. It’s a lot more difficult, lots and lots and lots of long, long hours of surveillance just for two or three minutes of video.
Let’s say it’s a worker’s comp fraud. You may be on it for four or five or six days or maybe even two weeks before you catch them doing something that they’re supposedly not being able to do. For example, one guy who fell off a ladder, he could barely walk, had the crutches dragging himself in and out of the doctor’s office and we got video of him in a kickboxing class. Needless to say, that was fraud.
But we do, I just finished an arson investigation. We do criminal defense. We hunt down witnesses, we verify alibis; we do that kind of stuff. We do process serving; that’s not a big forte of ours. We do a lot of background checks. If you’re going to go into partnership with somebody … I have a friend of mine, he has a 25-year-old daughter. We run a criminal background on everybody she dates.
What is the biggest obstacle as a small business owner?
A: The biggest obstacle, obviously, is government regulation, with all the new, everything from the tax laws and those kinds of things, and the next thing is, the old-fashioned way of people finding you in the Yellow Pages is gone away. Nobody uses Yellow Pages; everybody uses the Internet. It’s all a matter of getting out there and getting your name moved up on Google and Bing searches.
What is the most interesting case you’ve come across?
A: … I don’t know the most interesting, but the most satisfying, we just worked — and this is very unusual for us for us to actually work with law enforcement — but we worked with a sheriff’s department in a close-by county on a sexual molestation case.
It was a 48-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl, and because the girl had turned 16, the police couldn’t get subpoenas and warrants and all the things that they needed. So we went, did all the investigations, got enough information that even though the girl had turned 16 — of course, a predator doesn’t just prey on one — and we got enough that he actually, I just got an email and he pled and is going to get 25 years. And, see, that’s something law enforcement normally does but because they couldn’t get … a court to give them a warrant to seize computers and do that kind of stuff because the girl had already turned 16, we were able to go back in because we are not limited by jurisdiction and we found him stalking a girl in Texas and a girl in Arkansas and stuff like that. So we are able to go in and compile enough evidence that he decided it would be better to plea because if he pleas he’ll probably only serve five of that 25.
If you weren’t doing this, what would be your dream job?
A: Be 25 years old again and fly fighters. Be an astronaut. I started out in the military flying and then when the Navy got rid of the F-4s — it’s so expensive to train aviators — I applied for intelligence school.
Actually, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than this. I mean, I was the kid who read all the Hardy Boys books, I read all of the Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane, all that stuff growing up. I went to law school, and I just decided that I liked litigation, I liked being in court but I didn’t like all the rest of it. It gave me a good background. As you can see, that’s one of the reasons I like to teach in the PI school. I teach a lot of law. And then, being on the board is keeping everyone legal and ethical is part of the board’s job. And the fact is, according to the law, the board is established to protect the public.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Probably, just before I went to Vietnam, my dad told me, because he flew in World War II, he said, “Don’t focus on the tracers because fear will eat you alive. Just focus on the target.” I find whether I’m out there trying to find bad guys, whether I’m looking for a cheating spouse, forget all the peripheral stuff that’s going on around you and just focus on doing the job.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: What would they be surprised to learn? That I’ve got two master’s in ministry and a doctorate in ministry.
What do you think makes Bartow County special?
A: I moved here in ’96, all the way up from Acworth. I like Bartow County geographically. My wife has shopped here ever since [we lived in Acworth]. We shopped here, we liked it here. I like the people, and … I grew up in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma — Pontotoc County, Okla. I think it’s as close as I can get my city wife to living in the country.
What is your favorite meal?
A: I would probably have to say Mexican food.
In the movie about your life, who would play Bart Mitcham?
A: Well, it depends on the time in my life. Sam Elliott, just the voice.