… except he looks like Vince Vaughn
Bishop-based private investigator Nathan Morgenstein is in the Bishop Vons shopping with his wife last winter when his cellphone rings. It’s a Friday night. He declines to answer. The phone rings again. He looks at the number. San Diego area code. Hmm. Someone must really need him. He answers.
Someone did need him. An attorney from an insurance company representing a doctor who’d been involved in a malpractice suit. No denying the malpractice, acknowledged the attorney. The doctor had indeed botched a surgery.
But the victim had made very serious claims about the impact the surgical error had had on her life. She said she had to go to the bathroom with abnormal frequency. She also claimed that the surgery had left her physically unable to ski, which she said was one of her life’s passions.
She was asking for millions in damages.
The attorney, however, had reason to believe that perhaps the victim’s claims were overblown. To wit, the attorney had reason to believe the woman had planned a ski trip for that weekend. However, the private investigator who had been retained for surveillance had lost track of the woman’s vehicle in Victorville.
Was Morganstein available to try and spot the vehicle as it passed through Bishop and continue the surveillance from there?
Sure, he says.
He estimates the drive from Victorville to Bishop will take about four hours. As the time approaches, he heads down to wait near the Jack in the Box on the southern edge of town.
The vehicle, very difficult to miss because it sports a rather large Chargers decal, arrives in Bishop in a brisk 3 h. 45 min. Physically impossible, of course, if someone had to pull over for even a single bathroom break.
Morgenstein tails the family to Vons, where they shop before getting back on the road. He then tails them to their condo in Mammoth.
He gets a room for the night and then is up at the crack of dawn to go back to the condo and wait.
He eventually follows them to Canyon Lodge and takes photographs of the woman boarding the lift in her ski gear.
Sheet: Did you follow her on the hill?
Morgenstein: I don’t ski. But my brother does. So I called him, and he followed her around the mountain the next day and took pictures and kept detailed notes. Got paid $50/hour for it, too.
Morgenstein: When I called the attorney to ask how much [evidence] they wanted me to get, the attorney said, ‘Think of it as your money. What would you do to protect millions of dollars of your own money? So I went all out.
There’s probably not one of us who at some point in his/her life hasn’t thought it would be cool to be a private eye. But for Morgenstein, who grew up in Hawaii, it wasn’t a lifelong dream. In fact, he was drawn into it by a television advertisement for a P.I. school.
Why? ‘Cause he was home and bored and not working.
Why? Because Morgenstein, a chef by trade as well as by heart (he cooked in Bishop for 12 years, his last stop being the Firehouse Grill), had injured himself on the job, slicing a flexor tendon in his thumb. Over three years, he had five surgeries. He still can’t straighten his thumb.
As part of workman’s comp, he was offered some money for retraining in a different field.
“At the time, my vision of what an investigator actually did was pretty stereotypical. I just imagined an overweight pervert hiding in the bushes snapping pictures of someone having an affair. I didn’t realize the breadth of what the job can entail.”
Sheet: But you’ll hide in the bushes if need be?
Morgenstein: Sure, if someone wants to pay me to hide in the bushes, I’ll hide in the bushes. But stakeouts aren’t cheap. My surveillance rate is $75/hour.
Sheet: What does your job primarily entail?
Morgenstein: 70% of my time is spent interviewing witnesses for criminal cases. The rest is largely spent on the phone, meeting with attorneys and appearing in court. Over the years, I have worked closely with attorneys in trial on murder cases, three strike cases, domestic violence and virtually any type of criminal case you can think of. I am currently working my fourth homicide case.
All of my work is defense work. Giving people the opportunity to provide a good defense and get a fair shake … I find it very rewarding.
It took Morgenstein several years to get certified because the state requires 6,000 hours of work experience before one is even allowed to take the P.I. exam. This is why so many investigators are former cops, as their time on the job counts towards these hours. Morgenstein literally apprenticed under Kevin O’Grady (who lives in Gardnerville) for five years before he could bank enough hours to take (and pass) the exam last year.
“I came from nothing,” said Morgenstein. “We [his family] lived on the beach for over a year when I was growing up. I learned to cook because my folks were never around. I come from the street, which is incredibly useful. I know when people are lying and I know when they’re on dope … I love what I do. Not many people can say that.”
Morgenstein has been married for 16 years to wife Jenna. They have three children together and four children total.
Wolf’s Magnumstein P.I. quiz
Sheet reporter Colin Wolf had his own list of questions for Mr. Morgenstein based upon his love of that ‘80s icon, Magnum P.I.
1.Magnum PI hates being called a “Private Eye” or a “Private Detective.” He prefers to be called a Private Investigator. What should your clients call you?
I prefer Criminal Defense Investigator, which is specific to the work I typically do, but in general, I agree with Magnum.
2. Magnum PI had arguably the best mustache of all time. How important is a top deck cookie duster in your profession?
I think the cookie duster is too closely associated with cops. It’s a retired cop look. I’m not a fan of the cookie duster, though it fit Magnum quite well.
3. Magnum PI played quarterback at the Naval Academy, and was a huge Detroit Tigers fan. Are PI’s inherently into sports?
Yes. I’m an energetic person and I like multi-tasking and I think those qualities you’ll find in athletes and investigators. My team? I’m a diehard Buffalo Bills fan.
4. Magnum PI’s home was protected by two Doberman Pinschers Zeus and Apollo. Do you have any pets?
I have a pug and a chihuahua. Neither of them are armed.
5. Magnum PI drove a Ferrari 308 GTS, is it important for a PI to have a awesome car?
I definitely follow in Magnum’s shoes on this one. I own a bright orange Camaro. But no, it’s not important for an investigator to have an awesome car.
6. Magnum PI drank the fictional beer Coops. What kind of beer do you drink after a hard day’s work?
Arrogant Bastard Ale.