Local private investigation firm offers unique skill set


Retired special agents are making good use of their training even after they’ve turned in their badges. West Michigan-based The Bureau Group, a collective of retired FBI agents and retired command officers from the Michigan State Police and West Michigan county sheriff’s offices, offers a diverse and specialized skill set not seen in many other private investigation firms.

Michael Heffron, a Bureau Group investigator and recently retired FBI agent with 27 years of investigative and coordinator experience, said the FBI estimates an average of $1 million is spent in training over the course of an individual agent’s career. So in 2011, a group of retired agents formed The Bureau Group to sell their million-dollar training to private companies.

Heffron described The Bureau Group as a type of job-share network, where clients describe their cases and the group can recommend agents based on their experience.

“You can come on, and everybody’s kind of got a little bit of specialties,” Heffron said. “You got new guys coming out that may be a little more high speed on cybercrime than some guy who retired 20 years ago.”

The Bureau Group also leverages the strength of global connections to add to its skill pool. While the group itself is based in West Michigan, agents often take advantage of international connections they’ve built over their 20-to-30-year careers to help solve private cases.

“I’ve got a case right now where the main targets are in Iceland,” Heffron said. “Or there’s an element of something that needed to be done in London. Guess what? I got a retired Scotland Yard guy … seven days later, he’s got a complete report on London.”

Very few private investigation groups can boast such connections, Heffron said, and The Bureau Group is the first of its kind in West Michigan. He also stressed the importance that, on the company website, thebureaugroup.com, every investigator has a portrait and a short bio displaying their individual skills and experience to give them a sense of legitimacy that may be lacking with other firms.

“You Google ‘private investigator Grand Rapids,’ and there’s going to be these places that pop up, and you pull their websites up, and you probably will not see a picture and you will not see a bio on them, and that’s because they don’t want you to know their real bio,” Heffron said.

Because Bureau Group agents boast such extensive résumés, they attract high-profile clients like law firms and major corporations for various industries, including banking and real estate.

“Anything real estate-wise is mostly going to be where they want some due diligence or maybe there’s a deal they’re working on, and they just want to check on the validity of the other person involved in the deal,” Heffron said.

Retired FBI agents can’t put all of their experience down, however, and Heffron admitted his own bio doesn’t scratch the surface, otherwise it would be 10 pages long.

Heffron himself was selected twice to be part of a special antiterrorism group in Afghanistan and worked directly with U.S. and NATO Special Forces military units and intelligence agencies. He also holds FBI certifications as a police instructor, SWAT operator, tactical instructor and firearms instructor. 

“You try to put things that were major events in your career,” Heffron said, “but really, the depth of experience that our group has, and when you combine all our experience into a working group of 11, it’s pretty vast.”

Roberta Gilligan, an investigator specializing in supervisory matters, also boasts prior overseas service when she served in Iraq in 2011. Having retired in December 2017 with over 23 years of investigative experience, she joined The Bureau Group shortly afterward.

“Some things I can assist with would be any fraud type investigations, embezzlements, security assessments or threat assessments,” she said. “It could be an internal or external threat.”

Gilligan is a recipient of the Clarissa Young Female Officer of the Year Award for a number of successful investigations and the U.S. Attorney General Director’s Award for her work in the investigation of Marvin Gabrion, who killed 19-year-old Rachel Timmerman in Cedar Springs in 1997. Gabrion was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002.

The West Michigan group’s vast pool of knowledge comes coupled with what Heffron calls the “force multiplier” of all other retired agents across the U.S. and around the world. Even though they’ve all hung up their guns and badges, Heffron said the network is very much the same as it was during his FBI days, except everybody now has 20-30 years of knowledge.

The FBI National Academy is another resource in the group’s tool belt. The academy was formed in 1935 by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to train personnel to be future leaders in law enforcement.

It is a nine-week course held at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Heffron said there are 250 trainees in each session, with four sessions every year. Among the pool of trainees are about 50 foreign law enforcement personnel.

“So now they get this premier training that they’d never get anywhere else in the world,” Heffron said. “They leave. They go back, and now they got this network … and we utilize that also.”

Heffron, a graduate of the academy himself, said he’s utilized such a connection regarding a matter he was working on in Indonesia.

The Bureau Group provides a number of other investigative services, like forensic accounting, income and asset verification, identity theft and computer intrusion assessment, surveillance operations, and workman’s compensation and insurance claims.

Other services include electronic countermeasures, executive protection, polygraph examinations, threat assessments, threat response measures, TSA-certified armed security, active shooter training, firearms training and technical surveillance countermeasures training.

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