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HR in the Car - Episode 11: "Magnum without the Mustache"

This weeks’ episode welcomes longtime Alaant friend Mario Pecoraro to the show. We all got into this space around the same time, so if it sounds like we’ve known each other for a long time, that’s why. Mario shares some stories of how he was born into the investigative industry, how he had to teach court clerks about what he could have access to and more. 

More about Mario

Mario Pecoraro is an entrepreneur, corporate visionary, author, and founder of Alliance Risk Group Inc. The company specializes in background screening, insurance fraud investigations, process service, and property/casualty adjusting services. Prior to founding the company in 2005, Mario worked for fifteen years as a private investigator in his parent’s family-owned firm where his passion for investigations began. Mario published, “The Claim Game: Twenty Best Practices When Managing and Investigating Workers’ Comp Claims” which provides readers with best practices on how best to reduce overall risk related to fraudulent workers’ compensation claims. His second book, “Avoiding Costly Hiring Mistakes,” provides all the tips, best practices, and warning signs HR Professionals should look for when making hiring decisions. He is a sought-after industry expert who is invited to speak at national conferences on risk mitigation, a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Recertification Provider who conducts accredited webinars for HR professionals, and a Florida Licensed Education Instructor providing webinars for Florida Insurance Adjuster CE Credit. He has been featured on many local and national media outlets including ABC’s 20/20 as the “gold standard for those who want to screen out the fakes.” 

Contact Information:

Mario Pecoraro

Founder, Alliance Risk Group, Inc.

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Information & Links

Charity: CAPTAIN Community Human Services – Mario is a former board member and heads the company effort to support their annual Thanksgiving Drive and other giving opportunities.

Speaker 1: Welcome to HR in the Car, with Miriam Dushane and Tom Schin of Alaant Workforce Solutions, where exciting HR professionals and business leaders share laughter, insider stories, and maybe even a few tears about HR in today's world. Buckle up for the best half hour of your week.

Miriam Dushane: Who do we use for our background checks at Alaant?

Tom Schin: Alliance Risk Group.

Miriam Dushane: Yes, which was also once called Alliance Worldwide Investigative Corporation.

Tom Schin: Right. And it had a G at the end. I remember having to write his business name in my address book. It was always this big, giant, long name.

Miriam Dushane: Big, giant, long name. Well, I'm really excited because we're going to have Mario join us, and talk about background checks, how they've evolved over the years, and honestly, how he got started in the business, is my favorite part of this entire podcast.

Tom Schin: I've got this theme song jingling in my head. You guys are going to get it in a second.

Miriam Dushane: So welcome to HR in the Car. This is Miriam, and I'm here with Tom, and our special guest today is Mario Pecoraro. He is the founder and CEO of Alliance Risk Group, he is one of my most favorite people in the world, I've known him, let's count. How long have we known each other, Mario? I can't even remember now.

Mario Pecoraro: Oh, 17 ish years.

Miriam Dushane: Ish years.

Mario Pecoraro: Maybe 18?

Miriam Dushane: Yeah. Yeah.

Mario Pecoraro: Something like that.

Miriam Dushane: It's so surprising. I mean, I must have met you when I was five, because there's no way.

Mario Pecoraro: No, you were three. You were three, Miriam, when we met. Three.

Miriam Dushane: So Mario, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. So what we usually try to do is start off with, all right, tell us about yourself and your business. What do you do, my friend?

Mario Pecoraro: Well, Miriam, thanks so much for having me, and thank you, Tom. I'm the founder and CEO of Alliance Risk Group, and we're an investigative company. We help organizations keep really bad people out of their businesses. So essentially, we help companies reduce risk and inspire confidence. So we do background screening for corporations and HR professionals, and we do corporate investigations for employers and insurance companies that have issues with employees. So essentially, we are the keep the bad guys out of the organization police, for lack of better terms.

Miriam Dushane: How the hell did you get into this business?

Mario Pecoraro: Oh, it's complicated, Miriam. I was kind of born into it. So I had the privilege of growing up in a family owned business, so my dad was an old school private eye. Yes, exactly what you're thinking, the old school gum shoe, cigarette smoking, in your face, kind of old school private eye, and I learned so much growing up, working with my dad, so when you think about private eye, you think of the proverbial Magnum P.I.

Miriam Dushane: Magnum P. I.

Mario Pecoraro: (inaudible) .

Tom Schin: That's what I was thinking. The giant mustache.

Miriam Dushane: Giant mustached, corvette driving?

Mario Pecoraro: He did have...

Tom Schin: Ferrari.

Miriam Dushane: Ferrari driving.

Mario Pecoraro: He had a Ferrari. Yeah. So my dad did have the mustache, did not have the Ferrari.

Miriam Dushane: That's disappointing.

Mario Pecoraro: Did not have the attack dog, Higgins, although we did have... Or not Higgins, I don't know.

Tom Schin: Apollo and Zeus.

Mario Pecoraro: Yeah, Apollo and Zeus.

Miriam Dushane: Dude.

Mario Pecoraro: For the latest TV watchers, the latest Magnum P. I. Is out, and it's a little bit different, but the red Ferrari did not exist back in the eighties when I grew up in the family business. Back then, we did a little of everything. My dad did a lot of divorce work, custody work, he did general P. I. work, he had security guards, he also did polygraph work, lie detection work. So he would polygraph people on a regular basis.
So I really grew up around that environment, and learned so much and developed a really strong passion for the industry. And I saw an opportunity to really take that and make a business out of it. Whereas in the past, the proverbial P. I. Was the person that worked out of their back porch, that kind of chased bad people around, and had this stigma associated with them, except of course Magnum, who had a really good stigma.

Tom Schin: I can't get this image out of my head with the lie detector piece, because now I'm wondering, it's like the Meet the Fockers moment.

Mario Pecoraro: Pretty much.

Tom Schin: Right? I'm wondering if your dad put that on you, right? Did he ever subject you to the lie detector test?

Mario Pecoraro: No, but I have so many fun stories. So my dad, he's passed on now, it's been about 11 years, so he's resting in peace now, but I still have his polygraph machine and many stories of training where I would sit with him during these polygraph exams as he was administering them, to everything from cheating spouses to people that were applying for jobs in armored car companies, to see if they were lying.
And the best recollections I have are when he would ask somebody a question, and take a puff of his cigarette and then blow the smoke out as he's waiting for them to answer the question. And it's hysterical now, because he would probably be kicked out of that industry right now, if he was ever doing that. But he was a master interrogator, for sure. So if you wonder where I get my seriousness and my hardcore questions, that might be inherited.

Miriam Dushane: That's amazing. I mean, I knew it was a family business, I didn't realize how intense dad must have been.

Mario Pecoraro: Oh yeah. Yep. He was definitely intense and he empowered... One of the things that, and many lessons that I learned from dad, but he would show you something once, and then he would expect you to figure it out and I would go do it. And I was privileged enough to be... I would go out on the road when I was 16 years old, and if you think about what 16 years old means today versus when I was 16 about five years ago, it's a much different age. So when you're driving two, three hours away to investigate people, 16, 17 years old, it's kind of illegal, probably, to do that now. But back then, that's how I learned.

Miriam Dushane: I was going to say, so wait a second. You were actually working in dad's business at 16, 17 years old doing surveillance work?

Mario Pecoraro: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I was actually working in dad's business when I was about 12 to 13, riding along with him. And then when I was 16, I was doing my own surveillances at 16 years old. So I was actually exposed at a pretty young age. So yeah, I mean, I was doing courthouse runs before background screening became a thing. Years ago, it would not be uncommon for me to get in the car at 16, 17 years old and drive to Orange County, which would be Goshan, New York, Duchess County down in Poughkeepsie, and Ulster County in Kingston, and check criminal records in these massive books, pre- computer.
So I literally have been at this for, as I said, I turned 16 four years ago, so about... But all jokes aside, I've been at it close to 30 years since I really got into the industry, so I've been exposed to all aspects of it. So it's a pretty fascinating childhood. I didn't have your traditional childhood. So in a lot of ways, I think it forged me to where I am today.

Tom Schin: So when you started Alliance Risk Group, obviously Alliance Investigative was the original name, what was the alternative starting there? What was your plan B?

Mario Pecoraro: There was no plan B, right? So I mean, when I started Alliance, I sat down and wrote a business plan and said, " Listen, I want to start an organization." Back then, the Yellow Pages were popular, so for those listeners that don't know what a Yellow Pages is, Miriam probably does not know, but anyway, Yellow Pages was the big, thick phone book that you used to find, so I wanted a company that started with A, essentially, I didn't have a backup plan, it was go out and make a go of it, and I kind of never stopped, never looked back.

Tom Schin: Fascinating.

Miriam Dushane: I'm sitting here with my mouth open, because I've known Mario, what we just talked about, a million years. And I never knew those pieces. I mean, I knew he knew what he was doing, and I knew it was a family business, or he got into it because of his father, but I never knew those pieces. I'm just smiling from ear to ear.

Tom Schin: This is great.

Miriam Dushane: This is just making me so happy.

Mario Pecoraro: So Miriam, if you can picture me as a snotty 16 year old kid walking into a courthouse, maybe I was 17 at the time, and telling a court clerk that she had to release records to me, and meanwhile, I knew that she had to, but she didn't really know the law like I did at 17. Imagine having a 17 year old kid tell you that you've got to release records. I mean, I have so many fun stories of when I'd walk into a clerk's office, and the first time I'd walk in and I'd go back to my dad and say, " They won't release the records." And he would say, " No, they have to release them." And he would give me a copy of the statute, and so I would walk back in with a copy of the statute, and they would be like, " Where did you get this from? What are you doing?" And sure enough, they would release the records.

Tom Schin: Who is this kid?

Mario Pecoraro: And so I learned not to be the snotty 16, 17 year old kid over time, but I have stories now from friends that I developed through the years, that said to me, " We were like, 'Who is this kid coming in here?'" But it was really through that passion that I really learned so much about the industry and that sort of thing. And these folks have become very good friends through the years, and we still laugh about it to this day of, " Hey, you remember the time when you know would come in here and you would demand records, and we ended up learning that we had to give them to you. So thank you for educating us."

Tom Schin: I want to know the story of how you and Miriam met. Apparently there's some legendary tale here, that I want myself to learn this, but I want all of our listeners to hear this, too.

Mario Pecoraro: Yeah, so I was fresh in the business, I think I was in business maybe two to three months, and there was a colleague in the industry, Chris, who used to work with Miriam years ago. And Chris had said, " Listen, I can probably get you into a meeting with my boss. We do background checks here at Linium at the time, I'd love to get you a meeting." So I said, " Sure, I would love to." Back then, I would suit up, and I never really lacked confidence.
So I walked into this meeting saying, " This is going to be easy." I just took one look at Miriam, and sweet face, smiling, easy to win over, not going to be hard at all. So I walked in there with every bit of confidence, and I walked out of there, got my ass kicked, pardon my French, my butt kicked, in a good way, right? So I walked in there thinking, " She's not going to ask me any hardball questions." She asked me, I think back to that day, Miriam, on Wolf Road, when you were in that little shopping center. Yes.

Miriam Dushane: Yep.

Tom Schin: When she was nine.

Mario Pecoraro: When she was nine. And I still laugh, because every time I drive by there, I get trauma thinking about the interview with you. But no, all jokes aside, you gave me a run for my money in a good way. So we became steadfast friends, but you asked me some really hard questions. You're new in business, what makes you different? Why should we use you? We have a current process in place now. And she said, " Well, I'll tell you what, I'll get back to you." And she said, "I'm going to give you a shot and see what you can do." And as they say, the rest is history. But it was a fun process, because I thought for sure it was going to be an easy sale. And she made me earn it. And well played, Miriam, well played.

Tom Schin: 17 plus year friendship.

Miriam Dushane: And let me tell you, the relationship that we have had with your organization, with Alliance, for all these years, has been...

Mario Pecoraro: Absolutely.

Miriam Dushane: ... Amazing. And I remember one story once, and it ended up being... Background checks are no joke, right?

Mario Pecoraro: Not at all.

Miriam Dushane: And we had a situation where we actually were contacted by authorities, police, whatever it was, I can't remember all of the specifics, but it was basically something that should have come up in a background check. And we had run a background check on this person. This person was actively working for us. And I get on the phone like, " What the hell, Mario? What's going on?" And he's like, " Oh, this is not cool. Let me look into this. I'm going to get right back to you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And it actually turned out that the courts messed up.
So Mario did his due diligence, we had done our due diligence, but the courts had actually recorded something wrong or incorrectly, and it basically had slipped through. And so it was just one of those crazy things. But the reason I say that is because he was like, " Oh, hells no."

Mario Pecoraro: Yeah.

Miriam Dushane: Well, I know that we did what we were supposed to do and I always trusted him, and it turned out it was a human error, actually, that neither one of us could have had any control over. But that's what you get when you work with Mario, is there's no joke...

Tom Schin: Ownership.

Miriam Dushane: ... You're going to get complete support and assistance, and he's not processing paperwork. He has got people that are doing the job, and doing it really, really well.

Mario Pecoraro: I appreciate that. And just to play on that, the court system is funny because, as I said, having been involved in it for so long, a lot has evolved in our industry, but court records and court access hasn't really evolved like it should have. So I mean, years ago there was these massive books, and that's how criminal records were indexed. I mean, luckily the books have gone away, but if you hear about some of the access throughout the country, we just think in the capital region alone, there're counties within 10, 15 miles of the Albany area, that still have a manual court person actually accessing the records. They do not allow access by the outside world.
That was like that 25, 30 years ago. So the system is definitely... It's gotten better, but yes, Miriam, it's definitely, it's a challenge when you can only use the data that's in front of you, for sure. So certainly it's an evolving process, but it's been a great partnership for us as well. Not only have we helped you, you've helped us with several hires through the years, and we've had much, much success with the program that you've helped us with. So a little shameless plug for you, but it's really helped us out.

Miriam Dushane: I was going to say, thanks for the shameless plug. I didn't even pay you for that. Thank you.

Mario Pecoraro: Yes, it's been helpful.

Tom Schin: You mentioned kind of that 30 year non trend. I'm curious about what sort of positive trends that you're seeing from your lens, that businesses or states, it could be either side of it, what sort of trends you're seeing on that investigative side that are going in a positive direction?

Mario Pecoraro: I guess the most positive, and there's a few, but the most positive that I'm seeing is this whole concept of second chance hiring that's really taken over this country. So a lot of folks that have gotten in trouble, a lot of times, years ago, they were painted with a brush, if this person was charged with a crime or this person was arrested, so we're never going to consider them for a role. We're all seeing what's happened in the labor market, so employers are desperate for talent.
So there's been a big push to maybe change the mindset of employers around certain situations where giving someone a second chance makes total sense, so that's a big trend that we're seeing. As a matter of fact, we've got a webinar coming up in a couple weeks, talking through what the legalities around second chance hiring, and the positive impacts it's having on the HR world, so that's a big trend that we're seeing.
We're also seeing more and more evolution of background screening when it comes to things like culture fit. Background screening through the years, there's always been things like criminal records, credit records, verifications of employment references, but now there're new solutions including things like social media screening. So employers are looking at things like if someone is a racist person, if they have sexually explicit materials on social media, if they have violence, those are all things that an employer is going to want to know from a culture perspective, from a risk perspective, and so there're new tools out there to enable employers to look for those things. Because let's face it, not everybody who's a problem necessarily has been charged or convicted of a crime. And those are the types of people that I think we would want to know about as employers to decide. So that's a great new tool, a new trend.
And then we're also seeing a trend towards new identity verification solutions. So the days of folks providing their social security card, and the I- 9 piece, that's still an option, but there's new identity solutions around verifying through applicant driven tools, for identity. If you think about what we do with our technology, with our phones, now, if you're an iPhone user, years ago now it's been the fingerprint ID but now it's facial recognition. So there's more of that technology evolving as well in the industry.

Miriam Dushane: So in terms of your business, you've been doing this a really long time, if we've known each other for 17 years, you've been in business for at least 17 plus years, and then obviously before that. But what crazy thing or a situation that is almost unbelievable, in a way, that comes to mind for you? And I ask it because you think you've seen and heard it all, but you will never see and hear it all.

Mario Pecoraro: Yes, yes. So true. So true. Every day we hear different stories. So I guess some of the craziest stories I've seen are having to do with the extent to which candidates will go to falsify a degree, to falsify a resume, or a background. We've had cases as of late where someone has come in and alleged that they had a master's degree, and that they worked at a certain employer, and we find out that they were supposed to be experts in, say, for example, engineering or designing a building or a structure, and turns out that a company was sued because that structure failed, and turns out that the person that designed that structure never had the credentials to do so in the first place.
So you think about one example where an employer can be brought into a lawsuit, and there's many other examples where... I took a phone call literally today from an industry colleague involving someone, and I don't want to get too specific into the details, but involving someone that was brought into a not for profit and wasn't properly vetted, and there's potential, now, where people have come forward and it's potentially going to impact the organization.
So these kinds of things are real, and they happen on a regular basis. And I think most people don't think it's going to happen to them, until it's too late. So I think a lot those stories happen. So I've got stories even in our own organization where we've brought people in, we thought they were great, and then we ran the social media check and we find, we're shocked, maybe not shocked, to hear that their story that they told us wasn't so accurate. I mean, we had one candidate a few years backed that pass flying colors. Miriam, he even passed the Mario interview test, and I don't (inaudible) interview lightly.

Miriam Dushane: Which is hard, let me tell you, folks.

Mario Pecoraro: Yeah. So, Tom knows that. And he came back and everything looked great, and he had a gap in his employment, and he had a great explanation for it. He said, " Well, yeah, I took care of my sick aunt and she was dying and for years and years." So of course I delved a little further, and everything seemed to check out, his references checked out, but then when we did the social media check, all sorts of bells went off around weird activity on his social media, and he had a Twitter profile that was just not good. It was indicative of someone with a potential background around child abuse and his social media profile, the photos were matching, and as a matter of fact, when I asked him to explain why he had such a profile, his response was, rather than explain, give me some kind of an explanation, his response was, " Well, how did you find that? That wasn't supposed to be public knowledge."
So that ended that right there. But I think every employer has a story around what can happen to them if someone is not properly vetted. And it's an honor for me to take calls on a regular basis to be able to share my experiences, but it's a common denominator where you just don't know people like we did years ago. And I think you have to really change how you're looking at the whole process.

Tom Schin: And I think the tools that are out there, you mentioned social media, I think some of the things that we're seeing out there now existed 10, 20, 30 years ago, you just didn't see them, because there wasn't this attention, there wasn't the data capture of information that's out there. But now, everybody... I know people... I believe in freedom of speech, don't get me wrong, but people take it to the nth degree and say, " I can say whatever I want. It doesn't matter if it's hurtful or stupid or violent." Yeah, there's a lot that goes into that.

Mario Pecoraro: But Tom, it's funny, one of the things we're also seeing by employers is a little bit of a pushback, because they feel as though they're somewhat invading somebody's privacy when it comes to things like social media. Especially in light of wherever someone is on a political or religious spectrum, a lot of times those lines get blurred a little bit. And so what we tell employers is, " Listen, we're not here to interpret. We're only here to report things that can be used for you to make an adverse hiring decision."
And to your point, wouldn't you want to know as an employer if someone is a racist? Wouldn't you want to know if they had a violent tendency or they just believed in violence to solve issues? I mean, those are things that I don't think are going to be helpful to an employer once the person's come on board.
So I really think to your point, years ago, these things were not available. As a matter of fact, the federal government, even to this day, the way they do background screening, if you get a federal clearance, they send investigators out to interview your neighbors. So imagine... And that's what they did 30 years ago. They would literally knock on your neighbor door and say, " All right, Tom lives next door. What can you tell me about Tom? Is he a family person? Does he like to drink? Does he have a lot of parties?" All the things that Miriam missed before she hired you. And then you would find those things out and report back.
And so that's what the federal government is still doing for federal government clearances, amongst many other things. They also do in- person interviews versus over the phone. So they'll actually drive two, three hours to interview an employer face to face, to ask about someone in their history. So there's something to be said for that. I think that's a bit excessive for what our current employer state looks like, but it's definitely... There's some validity to that for sure.

Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.

Tom Schin: I can remember those. We had neighbors growing up, one of them was being prepped for a federal role of some sort. We thought it was the FBI, just because you saw people with those kind of unmarked cop cars, if you will. You're like, " Oh, what's that?" And you see the clipboard and investigative stuff. And it was for us as kids growing up, we were like, " Ooh".

Miriam Dushane: But they investigate everything, because when my husband and I were dating, we had only been dating like a few months, and he had left the Navy and they had to do another clearance for a job that he was going to take. And he warned me, he's like, " Hey, I know we've only just been dating, but they're going to reach out to you, because they check everybody."
And sure enough, now, I can't remember, I don't think they came in person, but I did get a phone call. But we've had it even in our own office, where we've had officials come in and talk to us about people that they are doing this investigation for, before they hire them for their organization. So it definitely is real.

Mario Pecoraro: Yeah.

Miriam Dushane: So Mario, as we wrap up, what is your go- to roadside assistance tool that's in your toolkit, in your trunk, that you go to when you need it for work?

Mario Pecoraro: It's a Springfield Arm, 45 caliber, 15 round magazine with a gun, that I carry. Are you talking about that kind of tool?

Miriam Dushane: Well, it certainly could be that. I mean, I actually was privy to that information. I've known that about you. Hey, if that's your go- to, baby, I mean, I feel safe being around you.

Mario Pecoraro: I laugh about that, because it sets a controversial topic now throughout the country. But all jokes aside, as a business owner, one of the things that I rely heavily on is my network of fellow business owners. As a business owner, we tend to all experience the same challenges and opportunities.
And so I rely heavily on kind of a close group of entrepreneurs that we share personal and businesses challenges with, that are literally on speed dial. And it's been a great tool for me on a regular basis. And just fellow industry colleagues that have experienced what I experienced. I find that that's probably one of the best resources, is talk to somebody who's been there before, because there's a good chance you don't have to rewrite the playbook.

Miriam Dushane: Absolutely.

Tom Schin: I love that answer.

Miriam Dushane: Yeah, I totally agree. We get such good answers for this one, because there's just so much out there, right?

Mario Pecoraro: (inaudible)

Tom Schin: Right. And your instinct is to think of something tangible, like your first answer.

Miriam Dushane: Yep, absolutely.

Tom Schin: To come up with these more ethereal... Is that too fru fru of a word? Not tangible.

Mario Pecoraro: Tom, it's Friday, I don't know. I mean that might be a little heave for us.

Miriam Dushane: I know, right? I'm like two hours away from my first beer. Let's go already.

Tom Schin: I'm thinking like Marvel superheroes and missed some magic, but...

Miriam Dushane: Yeah. So Mario, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mario Pecoraro: My pleasure.

Miriam Dushane: I've been looking forward to having you on since we decided that we wanted to do this podcast. I was thinking of all of my favorite people, and you were on that.

Mario Pecoraro: Oh, thank you.

Miriam Dushane: That very short list.

Mario Pecoraro: Thank you.

Miriam Dushane: I appreciate your time today, and thank you so much for being with us.

Tom Schin: Miriam, that was so much fun. I remember meeting Mario back in 2005. Back when you were... What did he say? Three, right?

Miriam Dushane: I was, yeah, maybe five. I mean, yeah, five. Definitely.

Tom Schin: I can't get the Magnum P. I. Jingle out of my head. But listening to these stories-

Miriam Dushane: I can't believe that you remembered the names of those damn dogs on that show.

Tom Schin: Dobermans.

Miriam Dushane: I remember the Dobermans, and they didn't like Magnum P. I.

Tom Schin: No.

Miriam Dushane: I love that. I love that you remembered that, because I never would've been able to remember that. But anyway, I digress.

Tom Schin: (inaudible) trivia, my specialty. Especially with TV shows, there wasn't much to do back then.

Miriam Dushane: So we made a fatal error, though. We didn't ask him what kind of car he drove when he was 16 years old going to courthouses.

Tom Schin: Oh, that would've been fantastic.

Miriam Dushane: Maybe we can ask for the show notes.

Tom Schin: Get a picture of that. You think Mario's got that same haircut he's had the entire time, I betcha that was the same, just thinner.

Miriam Dushane: He might've just been a tiny bit thinner. Don't be mad at us, Mario. We love you.

Tom Schin: Well thanks for listening to HR in the Car with Alaant Workforce Solutions. For more information about this and past episodes, visit us at Thanks.