Tri-Tech Forensics: Real-life CSI

By Terry Reilly, posted Mar 24, 2017
Jim Seidel, CEO of Tri-Tech Forensics, shown at the company’s new headquarters in Leland. The firm supplies both traditional and digital forensics resources to investigators. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
Turn on a TV crime show today, and you’re practically guaranteed to see a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) technique. Long before CSI Las Vegas and Bones became media hits, one company was quietly building a reputation as a supplier to real-life CSI teams.

Tri-Tech Forensics (originally Tri-Tech Inc.) began producing kits for crime scene evidence collection in 1983. Located in the Research Triangle, the founders were capitalizing on an unmet need at the time: a lack of uniformity in forensics collection among law enforcement, medical and laboratory professionals.

Today the privately owned company is settling into a new 40,000-square-foot facility in Leland. The move from smaller space in Southport was needed to help lure new employees.

“We had a hard time hiring people due to the distance from Wilmington. We’ve just hired some great talent, especially in sales,” said Jim Seidel, CEO of Tri-Tech Forensics.

The company may need the extra space if it grabs its share of the projected U.S. forensics technology market. The U.S. market is expected to expand to $20.8 billion by 2020, up from $10 billion in 2012, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Demand for CSI products is fueled by a rapidly growing population of users. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 14,400 crime scene investigators employed nationwide in 2014. By 2024, employment is expected to grow by 27 percent.

Tools Of The Trade

Tri-Tech Forensics is one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of forensic evidence collection kits and DNA collection kits. Forensic labs, law enforcement agencies, professional sports teams, drug testing laboratories and global corporations are its main customers.

The company’s Investigative Division also creates kits that include the sprays, powders, swabs and multiple color flashlights that enhance CSI scenes on TV. And the division provides invisible markers and sprays to catch thieves.

CSI professionals are demanding more science to snare perps. Tri- Tech’s Digital Forensics Division produces customized laptops that can extract data from electronics for criminal evidence.

Seidel said digital forensics, such as DNA testing, offers a significant improvement over traditional forensic methods.

“Latent fingerprinting has been proven to be a bit subjective. DNA is an accepted and well-proven science with no subjectivity. Digital forensics is similar in that it can positively place you, or at least your phone, at the scene of a crime,” he said.

The company also supplies equipment to companies working with law enforcement agencies like the FBI to extract the data.

Several years ago, the company’s digital division assisted in a pilot study with the N.C. State University Police Department to improve the investigation of fatal vehicle crashes.

Using Tri-Tech’s laptops and accessories, officers retrieved data from cellphones found at crash scenes. In several cases, the data revealed that the driver was texting at the moment of the crash. The equipment is now used by accident reconstruction divisions throughout the state.

Troy Vasos, vice president of Tri- Tech’s Digital Forensics Division, said the company provides the hardware but not the software to clients.

“We customize laptops and PCs to maximize the speed and quality of data retrieval for crime teams. We use a device manufactured by Cellebrite to extract data from laptops, cell phones and other equipment,” he said.

Last fall, Vasos traveled to Qatar for an international homeland security exhibition to promote the firm’s digital forensics capabilities. The global market for digital forensics alone is estimated at more than $2.5 billion and is expected to grow to $6.4 billion by 2022.

Other Lines Of Business

To support CSI professionals, Tri-Tech’s Training Division offers courses through a national team of contract employees. The courses run the gamut from basics in fingerprinting and crime scene photography to terrorism investigation and battlefield forensics.

The company’s training director, Phil Sanfilippo, is the former president of the International Association for Identification, the oldest and largest professional association for forensic professionals in the world. He is also a 30-year veteran of Miami- Dade’s police force.

One current course is a porthole into the twisted techniques of criminals – “Investigating Crimes Involving Narco Culture.”

Tri-Tech Forensics

Founded: 1983 by Jay Walker in Raleigh

Current owner: Point Lookout Capital Partners II (NYC)

Employees: 65 full time with additional contract as needed

Revenue: Undisclosed, privately held company

Growth rate: 17 percent annually (2014-16)

Core product: CSI kits

Largest client: FBI

Number of clients: 4,000+

International clients: 44 countries

Major competitor: Sirchie in Youngsville
The course prepares investigators for the criminal gangs and drug cartels that are hijacking mystic laden religions to commit smuggling and murder.

A lighter side of the business involves a recent partnership with baby bottle manufacturer, Mimijumi. At a chance meeting, Seidel learned that shipping was a major distraction for Wilmington-based Mimijumi.

“We took over their logistics and fulfillment. It was a natural secondary business for us,” Seidel said. “We are experts at shipping our forensic kits. For example, we turn out orders in hours instead of days for the FBI.”

Seidel said he would like to acquire additional customers that need the company’s fulfillment expertise.

“We may push into doing medical kits for diagnostic and pathological testing. In addition, we have the space to establish a clean room to support future customers,” he said.

And when asked about the TV and movie industry, Seidel said the company provides materials, but the studios have their own on-site consultants.

And is what we see on the big and small screen accurate?

“It’s unrealistic in terms of the timeframe and cost,” Seidel said. “If money is no issue, and they had a time machine, it could be done.”

Correction: This version corrects the company's role in a study with N.C. State University Police Department. Company officials also say they did not directly supply equipment in the San Bernardino terrorist attack investigation.
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