Take a swing at Robb Hamic and the president of Summit Security & Investigation will slap your fist away like it's a housefly before slamming his knuckles into your liver.
Then he'll lace his fingers around your skull, pull your face into his shoulder and begin hammering you in the calves, stomach and groin with his knees like a dancing Soviet soldier from a cartoon.
Even then he's not done. Step three in this exercise of "Fierce Israeli Guerilla Hand-to-Hand Combat Tactics," or FIGHT, pioneered by Hamic's mentor Mike Lee Kanarek, is literally a step. He stomps on your ankle. Crunch, snap. Now you're done.
"The only way to overcome violence is with a greater degree of violence," Hamic says as he demonstrates the "Haganah" technique in the practice studio at the back of his Albuquerque headquarters. The statement is discordant with his otherwise serene presence: He's an unimposing vegan with sad Little Boy Blue eyes.
Hamic's company provides training on these techniques to everyone from law enforcement officers to community groups. But combat fighting isn't Hamic's only weapon. His blog, which he launched in May 2008, is where he really tries to inflict damage on his enemies: other private security companies and the New Mexico Regulation & Licensing Department, the state agency that oversees them.
There are nearly 7,000 security guards licensed in New Mexico and 181 registered companies, each its own paramilitary organization complete with ranks, badges, uniforms and, often, firearms. These guards protect everything from convenience stores to apartment complexes to federal facilities.
Hamic's documentation is enough to make anyone feel insecure. He claims many of the licensed operators should have their licenses revoked and that unlicensed security companies get free passes from the RLD.
His blog is a chaotic mix of surveillance photos, phone call recordings, documents and online records. He outs companies that don't pay workers' compensation, posts mug shots of felons he alleges have been hired illegally as security guards and has camera phone pictures of guards smoking pot on the job.
Hamic has a special grudge against one company in particular, Legit Security, which up until recently held contracts in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos. On his blog, Hamic accuses its principals of numerous crimes, and is keeping his magnifying glass trained on them as they face mounting legal cases and possible criminal prosecution.
Hamic claims he's cleaning up the industry and argues that law-abiding security companies shouldn't have to compete with companies operating outside the law. His critics say Hamic's methods are underhanded, dubious and motivated strictly by profit.
RLD Superintendent Kelly O'Donnell acknowledges unlicensed companies are a problem in New Mexico. But she's willing to trade punches with Hamic when it comes to his accusations that the Private Investigations Advisory Board, the RLD division that oversees security companies, is asleep on the job.
"I think this board has enhanced the overall professionalism of the industry, which sometimes attracts a sort of individual who might otherwise eschew formal guidelines for conduct and behavior," O'Donnell says. "But, I'd like to make the point that the criticism of this agency's administration of the board has come almost solely from one individual."
Besides, she says, it's not the department's job to referee the market competition.
"It starts to feel like a school yard war," O'Donnell says.
To receive a private investigator's license in New Mexico, an individual must be 21 years old, "of good moral character," pass the required PI exam and have not been convicted of an offense involving "dishonesty," "an intentional violent act," or illegal use or possession of a deadly weapon. Three years previous investigative experience also is required.
For Hamic, that experience derives from a career in law enforcement. A native of Carlsbad, Hamic enlisted as a teenager in the US Army to serve in Desert Storm, but was discharged before he could ship out because of injuries from a car accident. He moved to Albuquerque, where he started in pizza delivery and graduated to real estate sales before he successfully applied to become a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy in 1994.
The private investigator is proud of his service, which began with basic patrolling and DWI stops. At 23, he was promoted to detective in the property crimes division, where he says he worked burglaries and white-collar crimes, a gig that forced him to learn how to chase the paper trail.
Hamic met his wife on the force—but when they had their first child in 1998, it became clear they couldn't both continue in law enforcement. Hamic took a step back. When she became pregnant with twins in 1999, they decided to abandon the field altogether.
After a short stint in medical billing, Hamic applied for his private investigator license.
"I thought I was going to be a gumshoe," he says, but the best he could find at first were small contracts for running background checks on folks applying to rent apartments. "It felt like a step down," he says.
Soon he graduated to process serving—delivering court documents, usually summonses—and accepted his first dangerous gig: a contract to serve processes on a motorcycle club involved in a civil suit. He had to hire backup to follow him with a shotgun.
"The first one was easy, but each subsequent one got harder as they called each other to let them know I was coming," he says. "They set their pit bulls on us."
In 2002, the Albuquerque Police Department suffered from understaffing and, as a result of an uptick in property crimes, apartment complexes were scrambling for private patrol officers. With a partner, Hamic formed Everest Security and, at one point, he says, more of his men were patrolling the northeast valley of Albuquerque than police officers.
Then, one February night in 2003, one of his men was shot dead while responding to a robbery at the Aztec Village Apartments. The employee and friend, Johnnie Poncho, a member of the Laguna tribe, caught two of the perpetrators, but then a third came up and got him from behind. Poncho's death took a toll on Hamic and inspired him to develop the combat-training component of his business.
The litigation between Hamic and his business partner Gilbert Herrera between 2004 and 2007 made headlines in Albuquerque: Hamic accused Herrera of fraud and embezzlement, while Herrera accused Hamic of trying to get him drunk in order to cheat him out of his controlling share of the company. The two-year-long case was dismissed in November 2008 and Hamic says he agreed to eat several hundred thousand dollars in tax liens in order to put it behind him.
Now Hamic has developed a small and growing regional empire, with more than 80 employees and operations in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Austin. Hamic personally runs combat training courses and says he is negotiating contracts in Guam and Britain.
Lately, though, Hamic says he devotes most of his time to the blog.
"At first, I only had a certain bucket of information, but when I started blogging I also started to develop more information," Hamic says. "I had people giving me a lot of covert audio that they had taken. My bucket of knowledge was getting bigger and my ability to share it with other people was improving, and there was growing interest, especially in the industry."
As of May 15, Hamic's blog was averaging 1,159 page views per day.
The blog may have taken over his life but, according to Hamic, it also threatens it. He has reported to the Albuquerque Police Department 16 threats made against him in the last year and recently told APD he believes he is being followed. According to the emailed response, APD forwarded the reports to the district attorney's office.
At any given time, Hamic carries two guns—a Kimber .45 with hollow-tipped, full metal jacket bullets, and a 15-shot Glock. He's a little more "shaken" than in previous months. He changes cars regularly, checks his car for GPS tracking devices and keeps an eye on his rearview mirror in case he's tailed.
"It's definitely started laying on me a lot more lately," he says. "I've got all this training and all these skills and I've always got a gun, but that doesn't protect well against a drive-by shooting."
In December, he moved to Austin, were he lives in a "Mayberry" neighborhood where he hopes his kids will be safe from the true crime story that is his online life in Albuquerque.
But Hamic's enemies may feel just as bullied by him.
It's Cinco de Mayo. From his home in Austin, Hamic has set up a sort of control room. He has an operative on the ground watching Legit Security's Albuquerque office from across the street, snapping photos of a moving truck loading up furniture. The operative emails them by iPhone and Hamic posts them immediately.
For days, Hamic has been receiving calls from Legit employees who complain they haven't been paid in four weeks—not a surprising development, he says, because a group of employees are currently suing the company for back pay.
But this morning, the phone rings off the hook and Hamic's email is flooded: Legit is closing up shop and handing out flyers instructing employees to submit time sheets and to reapply for their jobs with ICU Security, a new and unlicensed company. ICU has taken over Legit's outstanding contracts.
Hamic has been amassing an enormous case against Legit for months, much of which he'd like to use to testify against Legit in the fraud and embezzlement case scheduled to be heard in Second Judicial District Court. (Because of the research he has compiled on his blog, Hamic considers himself an expert witness.)
In July 2005, a San Diego-based corporation called SkillStorm hired Gilbert Baca to run its Albuquerque security franchise. A year later, the company fired Baca, alleging the manager had billed SkillStorm's payroll department for employees who didn't exist and deposited checks from clients into his own account. SkillStorm also alleges Baca used its literature to secure contracts for a new security firm—Legit Security—which Baca formed with Joe Stidham, the police chief for Bosque Farms. Baca did not return SFR's calls and Stidham declined to comment because of the litigation.
Hamic also wants to testify in any criminal proceedings against Legit, should they come to pass. Bernalillo 2nd Judicial District Attorney Kari Brandenburg says her office has "boxes and boxes" of evidence, but the criminal investigation of Baca and Stidham "probably won't be completed anytime soon."
As his operative passes time with a trip to McDonald's, Hamic tracks down information on the new company, suspicious that Legit has simply reformed as ICU. Within minutes, he's got the names of ICU's principal owners, begins mapping relationships and tracks the company to an address formerly used by Legit.
Hamic's operative guns it to the new office, taking instructions from Hamic over the phone, which is wired through the SUV's dashboard computer and speakers.
The address turns out to be Office Alternatives, a business that offers a temporary front to small and mobile businesses. According to the brochure, office space may be rented for "as little as $10 an hour." ICU is only using the company's answering service.
Hamic's operative snaps pictures of the two Legit patrol cars parked in front of the building.
On the other side of Albuquerque, the Private Investigations Advisory Board meets.
Board Chair Donald Jochem, a former FBI special agent and current attorney general investigator, calls the meeting to order. It's an informal meeting—few motions, few proper votes.
A representative from a company called Diamond Group approaches the board and asks whether the company can skip the Department of Public Safety's screening of its guards and instead provide the board with copies of background checks directly from the FBI.
PI Board members are warm to the idea, but counsel jumps in and tells them it would be illegal.
In another matter, AKAL Security's regional director asks the board to mail approved guard licenses directly to the company and suggests he could then distribute them directly to the guards.
The board also is warm to this request but, again, the board's lawyer chimes in that this, too, would be illegal—the statute states the cards belong to the guards.
A compromise emerges: The board administrator promises to fax copies to AKAL from now on. The company also begs for an expedited licensing process because of its contract for the state fair. The administrator promises AKAL will be the first company he calls when the new fingerprint scanning equipment is ready.
The board handles disciplinary measures during closed, private sessions. Hamic argues that, from what he's seen during open sessions, the board may be more concerned with assisting certain well-behaved companies than going after the bad actors.
There are 181 active security company licenses in New Mexico, 6,814 active security guard licenses and another 704 pending, according to RLD online records. Unlicensed companies run rampant and unchecked, Hamic says.
Hamic's crusade was kicked off in 2002, when he opened the Albuquerque phone book to check out the competition. He says more than half of the dozens listed were unlicensed. That number hasn't changed. The 2008 Santa Fe phone book lists 12 companies and two of them—Associated Security Industries and Santa Fe Guard & Security—do not appear to have licenses, according to the RLD's website (Associated Securities Industries, SFR later learned, is licensed; see note at the end of this story). The license for another company, American Security & Patrol Services, is listed as pending.
Superintendent O'Donnell acknowledges Hamic might be right about the epidemic of unlicensed security guards.
"I think that this industry in particular faces a real challenge from unlicensed activity," O'Donnell says. "This industry has the potential to attract some people who might be willing to ignore the law occasionally. The board has cracked down on them. Have they been 100 percent successful at that? Well, no."
The board currently has only two full-time staffers, which, along with underfunding, is a serious constraint, O'Donnell says.
Last year, the PI board reported $133,100 in fees, but only assessed a few thousand dollars in fines.
The Attorney General's Office is prosecuting four cases on behalf of the board, according to Board Administrator Steve Herrera. The board also mails advisory letters to businesses that hire unlicensed security. But the board can only assign up to $1,000 in penalties.
"A short coming…under the new statutes is the penalty section," Jochem tells SFR. "[The board] believes that increased sanctions are in order to address problems such as unlicensed activity."
The RLD conducts compliance field investigations two or three times a month.
In other words, O'Donnell says, the department has limited resources and Hamic is relentless with his complaints.
"He just puts forth a huge volume of information and some of it is credible, some of it is not, but we don't respond to all of it," she says. "To an extent, Mr. Hamic is utilizing the board to vent his own personal competitive frustration. [If we answered all of them], we would be showing him preference in regulation, which is totally antithetical to what we're trying to accomplish."
Hamic counters that devoting resources to AKAL Security may show preference in regulation. AKAL is one of the nation's largest providers of security to the federal government; in fiscal year 2009, the company won more than $178 million in contracts. AKAL also has contributed tens of thousands to Gov. Bill Richardson's campaign committees; the governor appointed the company's founder, Gurutej Khalsa, to the PI board.
Superintendent O'Donnell says it's not problematic that Khalsa does not recuse himself from the decision making when it comes to AKAL.
"It actually strikes me as evidence of the really high degree of transparency of this board," O'Donnell says. "Mr. Khalsa, who is powerful, if his employees have to come talk to the board about their problems in a public meeting, that suggests to me that he isn't showing them any preference at all."
According to RLD's records, Khalsa's term on the board expired June 30, 2008. RLD staff says this was an oversight and they are currently in the process of renewing his appointment. SFR was unable to reach Khalsa for comment.
This isn't the only issue in which the board itself may be out of compliance with the law.
According to statute, the board must include two private investigators, one private patrol operator, a polygraph examiner and one member of the public.
Initially, RLD staff told SFR that Khalsa represents the private patrol operator. However, he currently does not hold a PPO license. Staff also say Board Member Mark Smith is one of the board's private investigators, though he does not have a PI license on record.
After SFR pointed this out, RLD stated that Khalsa would apply for his PPO license this week.
In the meantime, the board in charge of licensing is itself operating without the proper licenses.
In the coming weeks, Hamic may need to go on the defense as his own license may be on the line.
Herrera tells SFR two individuals are in the process of submitting complaints against Hamic. One of them is Steven Patterson, owner of United Security and a former employee of Hamic's previous company, Everest Security.
Hamic and Patterson are currently in litigation; Hamic claims Patterson violated a non-compete clause in his contract by forming a new company, United Security. Patterson tells SFR he has compiled a 180-page complaint against Hamic and his blog. Hamic in turn has accused Patterson of a variety of malfeasance.
Patterson describes this as Hamic's typical modus operandi.
"Robb knows the truth, and he's banking on employees and customers and prospective customers actually to read [his blog] and believe it or formulate an opinion on somebody that's really not true," Patterson says. "I know how Robb operates. I've known Robb for a long time, and that's what he is trying to do."
In addition to the purported pending formal complaints, O'Donnell says the department also receives a "great amount" of informal complaints against Hamic.
"As you can imagine, when he puts a great deal of negative information about his competitors out there, they're going to put a great deal of negative info about him out there," O'Donnell says.
Often the complaints are about Hamic's blog and the way he spreads allegations about his competitors. However, the board is powerless to go after Hamic as long as he's not violating the rules and regulations. Preventing "negative publicity" is not part of the board's mandate.
"It's not our job to referee that kind of stuff, but we have to evaluate every claim that comes to us," O'Donnell says. "When we evaluate the claims and they are found to have little or no merit, we get very, very frustrated."
When it comes to Legit, however, Hamic's claims seem to have had merit. As a result of complaints—including ones filed by Hamic, Public Information Officer Teala Kail concedes—the board contracted an investigator to look into Baca and Legit Security.
"Legit was fully aware of the investigation involving their company," Herrera says. "I would say that the compliance effort on the part of RLD played a significant role in the closing of their doors."
Hamic—who says he forwarded the investigator more than 300 pages worth of documents on Legit—says RLD can't be certain Legit has fully closed up shop until it investigates the unlicensed company, ICU Security, which he believes has taken over Legit's operations.
He's already posted photos of Legit patrol cars and guards in Legit uniform continuing to work for clients.
In the meantime, Hamic sees an opening in the market. He has hired several of Legit's former employees—particularly in Santa Fe and Taos—and is sending them out to market his services. These employees often target Legit's former clients and use the research Hamic has compiled, as well as their own negative experiences, to sell clients on contracting with Hamic's company.
Hamic doesn't acknowledge that his profit motive may undermine his credibility.
"I'm a legitimate business man. I offer services that are legal," Hamic says. "My blog is both my soapbox and a community service."
Shortly after he launched his blog, an anonymous writer started a counter-blog to attack Hamic. The blog refers to him as "Hamcock" and accuses him of "slander" and "corporate terrorism."
Hamic brushes those attacks off—again, like a housefly.
"The truth," he says, "is the ultimate defense." SFR
Editor's note: Associated Securities Industries is licensed. Its name, as advertised in the phone book, does not appear in the RLD license online database. However, the name under which it operates, ASI Security/ Mera Man Lochai Enterprises, does.
Robb Hamic demonstrates his defense techniques.