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Private eye spying in Tallahassee says he wasn’t targeting lawmakers

“The target was not a legislator,” Derek Uman told the Times/Herald in a series of emails this week. “It was a regular domestic case.”
The covert camera and power pack found by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, in the Tennyson apartments in Tallahassee where many Florida legislators and lobbyists live during session. [Special to the Times]
The covert camera and power pack found by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, in the Tennyson apartments in Tallahassee where many Florida legislators and lobbyists live during session. [Special to the Times]
Published Jan. 26, 2018|Updated Jan. 26, 2018

Nearly three months ago, the public spotlight fell on a Gainesville private eye caught on video planting a camera in the Tennyson, a Tallahassee condo building where a number of state lawmakers reside during the legislative session.

News of Derek Uman’s spying, captured on tape and revealed by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, sent a chill through the capital and placed him at the center of a controversy over sexual misconduct exposed by private eyes.

Earlier this month, surveillance footage posted on a website led to two senators acknowledging an affair and seemed to point to Uman: the footage came from the same Tennyson hallway where he was filmed planting his camera.

But Uman now says he was working on an unrelated domestic case when he was caught on tape back in May, and that he is not the source of footage that has been posted online.

"The target was not a legislator," Uman told the Times/Herald in a series of emails this week. "It was a regular domestic case."

Uman said he was also working with a second private investigator some of the time. He would not name the second investigator, nor would he answer whether his video captured any legislators or whether that video was given to a third party.

Previous coverage: Someone's spying on Florida legislators. Tallahassee is on edge.

FDLE confirmed this week that Uman's lawyer told agents he was on a domestic case not relating to lawmakers. That information was not in the agency's investigative report, but agents relayed it to legislators who were staying in the Tennyson.

That would make Uman's timing a strange coincidence. If the camera footage from the Tennyson wasn't his, that means someone else placed a different camera in the exact spot Uman did only a few days earlier.

For Uman, it's been unwelcome attention.

The 44-year-old private eye is a Gainesville native who spent years catching shoplifters at Target and Sports Authority before he started snooping on spouses.

In 2003, he launched Clear Capture Investigations, and he's since created a niche looking into workers' compensation claims.

In a recorded conversation with FDLE agents last year, Uman's brother, a lawyer, said such claims made up 85 percent of his brother's work.

"For example, somebody has a worker's comp claim that says they can't pick up anything heavy, or they limp while they walk, then he's hired by various insurance companies … to video the civil targets for evidence in trial," Jon Uman told investigators.

Despite claims on Clear Capture's website of having offices as far south as Miami, Derek Uman said he runs a small shop. He works out of his modest home behind an elementary school, and his older Jeep Grand Cherokee sticks out in Tallahassee — the personalized plate touts he's a "born Gator."

"I am a private individual with a small private investigative firm that does workers' comp and domestic cases," he said in an email, "and I rely heavily on my reputation for work."

Last year, he said someone approached him "for assistance with a domestic concern that needed to be documented for a possible domestic relations issue/case."

He would not say who hired him. He doesn't have to. Florida law protects private investigators from revealing clients.

The location for his stakeout was the Tennyson high-rise condominiums in Tallahassee, where for years dozens of lawmakers and lobbyists have made it their home for session.

He said he spent six days there between two trips, from April 24 to April 28, and from May 3 to May 5, renting a room on the 14th floor.

The building's cameras spotted him moving a remote surveillance camera to different locations on each day. On the last day of his stakeout, a remote camera Uman had hidden on a desk at the end of the hallway on the sixth floor fell.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, one of several legislators and lobbyists staying on the sixth floor, picked it up and reported it to FDLE.

When agents called Uman, he seemed surprised and referred them to his lawyer.

"I have no idea what's going on," he told an FDLE agent, according to an audio recording.

His brother told them that Uman was in the Tennyson doing private eye work. FDLE agents did not press him or his brother to reveal his client.

"I'm not interested in knowing who hired him and whatnot," Special Agent Clint Beam told Uman's brother, according to an another audio recording."I just want to verify that he was there, and he was the one that put a camera up on one of the floors."

On May 22, 17 days later, agents closed the case, finding that Uman "was working within the full scope of the law as a licensed private investigator." Uman's camera was considered to be in a public space and therefore, allowed under the law.

But in late October, when Politico broke the news of Uman's camera at the Tennyson and someone's spying efforts against former state Sen. Jack Latvala, a shock wave rattled through Tallahassee. The use of private investigators to dig up records and research politicians was not uncommon, but actively surveilling people was considered a new front in state politics.

Sen. Jeff Clemens had resigned just days earlier, after his affair with a lobbyist staying on the sixth floor of the Tennyson was revealed. Suspicion turned to Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned April 21 after using a racial slur. He reportedly vowed revenge on fellow lawmakers. Artiles has denied that.

Former Public Service Commissioner Nathan Skop told the Times/Herald last year that Uman had followed him in January 2016, days before Skop was scheduled to testify in Hawaii against Florida Power & Light parent company, NextEra. In August, FPL and came up again, but this time in an Op-Ed written by Uman that slammed Gainesville Regional Utilities. In it, Uman asserted that FPL could do a better job and provide lower rates.

When asked about the Op-Ed, Uman replied in a text: "It wasn't support for FPL. It was ideas on what GRU can do to change…I have NEVER, repeat NEVER worked for FPL."

And Skop's allegation that he followed him?

"I have no clue what Mr. Skop is talking about."

But just as questions arose about what role Uman was playing in exposing lawmakers, he was thrust offstage by Latvala's storyline of harassment, investigations and his subsequent Jan. 5 resignation.

Only four days after Latvala resigned, the spotlight again searched for Uman when surveillance photos and videos from the sixth floor of the Tennyson were posted on a website alleging an affair between Braynon and Sen. Anitere Flores. The two acknowledged the relationship later that day.

Who created the site is still unknown, and it's since been taken down. But its creator claimed to be surveilling Braynon and Flores from inside the Tennyson between April 21 and April 25 last year, on one of the last weekends of the session, when lawmakers typically stay in Tallahassee.

The footage appeared to come from the same sixth floor hallway table where Uman's camera was found.

But Uman, who said he started his stakeout in the Tennyson on April 24, said neither he nor the private eye he was working with was involved in the website.

"None of my work is on that website and I have nothing to do with the site or any of the content on it," he said. "The investigator that was with me during a portion of my time there in 2017 also had nothing to do with that website or any of the content posted on it."

And besides, he said the work product was beneath him.

"Quite honestly, it doesn't look like a private investigator took that, at least not any that I've dealt with over the last 20 years," he said. "The video quality is horrendous."

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this story.


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