Besides providing unlimited investigative services, Hilty's agency offers pro bono work in missing persons cases. “I can’t see charging when a loved one is missing,” he said. “The work pays for itself with a good feeling.”
Matthew Hilty, left, with his partner, John Bukovack, and Sadie Photo courtesy of Ocean City Today
Hilty is planning to hold the first annual OC Investigations Child Identification Event in the summer of 2006. Area children will be photographed and assigned an identification number, and parents will receive a packet along with a bracelet or other identifier. If the child ends up lost, the identifier instructs the finder to call the Ocean City beach patrol or the local police.
“The potential is there for children to get separated from their parents,” said Hilty. “Especially in a town with so many visitors and distractions, like the beach and boardwalk.”
Hilty credits his IUP business courses with preparing him for the business aspect of running an agency. But his inspiration really began as he was growing up in Luzerne Mines, Pa., and watching his older sister become a successful doctor who now lives on the west coast.
“It made a difference in how I approach my career,” said Hilty. “If you don’t wake up every morning feeling good about what you do, that’s not success.”
Hilty got his start working security at Stapleton library in 1998 while going to school, and followed that up by working for several Ocean City hotels in security positions, plus as a seasonal Ocean City police officer. Working in private security helped him learn to deal with people, as did his work as a child/family therapist and crisis intervention instructor in Indiana along with volunteer time with the Red Cross.
It was while working in Indiana, raising his young son by himself, that Hilty met his future wife and colleague. The former Jill Johnson ’01 (daughter of IUP English professor Sue Johnson), she now works as the agency’s administrative manager.
In the summer of 2004, after working in Ocean City for ten years, Hilty was offered employment by the FBI. During the background process, which took over a year, he started planning the early stages of OC Investigations in case the FBI did not hire him. Before being offered a position, Hilty realized he could make the same money working for himself, plus be home to raise his son, Jordan.
“I’m glad I had private positions before working in the police department,” he said. “It was like having customer service training.”
Most of his company’s investigations deal with “typical” private eye matters, such as following husbands or wives suspected of infidelity. Many times this is as simple as placing a GPS unit on a vehicle and just tracing their movements. (In these cases, the client owns the vehicle, so Hilty has permission to place the GPS unit.) The agency also serves subpoenas, investigates internet fraud, helps retrieve deleted information from computers, does background searches, checks marriage records, and much more.
“Investigations usually involve lots of time spent on the computer, such as checking cell phone records and call histories,” said Hilty. “It generally doesn’t take a lot of time to put the pieces together.”
Hilty is affiliated with Former Federal Investigators (FFI). FFI assists the agency with forensic investigations, DNA analysis, fraud, identity theft, satellite imagery, and more.
“This enables me to commit to more long-term, nationwide investigations, such as fraud and embezzlement cases, without exhausting all of my manpower,” said Hilty. “Some of these cases can last weeks, months, and even years. We can contract those cases to FFI or one of their partners and still be able to provide services to our local, smaller clients.”
Hilty’s agency has a good relationship with the local police departments. Hilty recently added bail enforcement and fugitive recovery (bounty hunting) to OC Investigations’ list of services.
“The jurisdictions in this area generally support bounty hunters,” he said. “It’s not like the TV shows. The police have been very helpful. We don’t step on anyone’s toes or interfere with police business.”
One of more unusual cases the agency worked on involved an internet pornography case. A web site operator had posted photos on several websites of his ex-wife’s body, but with other heads pasted on top. The most difficult part was proving to whom the body in the photos belonged. The investigators had to compare clothing, jewelry, background, and a small tattoo. The case is still pending, even though the suspect eventually hung himself.
As Hilty noted, a modern private investigator requires computer savvy. Hilty estimates that 75 percent of his time is spent on the computer. Of course, as both owner and investigator, some of the work is business related, but still half of his investigation time is spent on line. But things move fast with computer help—a search that used to take days can be resolved on line in as little as ten minutes.
The latest investigator to join the agency is Sadie, a German Shepherd. Certified for building searches and live scent tracking, she can be hired out and is also being trained to detect narcotics.
Hilty hopes to expand his offices into the Baltimore and Washington area and into Pittsburgh within the next year.
“I will be hiring dozens of new young detectives over the next couple of years from all areas of the United States,” said Hilty, “but I will always give preference to IUP alumni. I know the area, the university, and the work ethic bestowed upon the university’s graduates.”
Updates about the Child Identification Event, which will raise money for the Ocean City Police Department and the Ocean City Beach Patrol, are posted on the agency’s website,