Former Albany Top Cop Joins Corporate Security Firm

Feb. 4--COLONIE -- Atop a gleaming suburban office building they share with a laser surgeon and allergist, a cadre of retired lawmen has trained its sights and counter-surveillance equipment on the less savory side of the region's high-tech hopes.

In the parlance of the industry, they specialize in "electronic sanitation" and "dignitary escort."

But to be clear, retired Albany Police Chief Robert Wolfgang and his cohorts are now in the business of helping companies keep their secrets secret and their bigwigs out of harm's way.

Corporate security can be an obsession, and fighting off industrial espionage can be an expensive cost of doing business, experts say. But vigilance has protected the recipe for Coca-Cola for more than a century and -- with companies like Advanced Micro Devices Inc. being wooed to locate here -- the former police chief and others are betting their experience is a needed commodity.

Wolfgang, 56, is one of six directors of Tech Valley Security Inc., a nascent private consulting firm looking to capitalize on the security needs that come with big business.

His confederates include longtime friend and former Albany Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen, retired city police detectives Tim Robinson and Tom Inglee, software entrepreneur Larry Davis, and Earl Costello, who earned a reputation as a bulldog of a bail bondsman.

Costello now lives in Las Vegas, where he will run the firm's satellite office.

Sitting in Wolfgang's sparsely decorated office, Davis -- whose company, CommSoft, occupies most of the fourth floor -- was frank about the need for their services.

"We're basically here because of the concept of Tech Valley," Davis said. "I know in our company (which develops billing software for telecommunications firms), we would love to know what's going on in some of the boardrooms of our competitors."

One can only assume other companies share the same interests, he said, and perhaps possess fewer scruples.

Francis X. Wright, a professor of management in the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, calls security the "martial art" of protecting information. And depending on the technology, he said, the stakes can range from control of the market to national security.

A company can "put a great chip in my laptop and it can put a great chip in that cruise missile -- maybe the same chip," said Wright, a former executive with defense technology giant Raytheon Co.

"It's like an arms race. Whenever you do one thing, they come up with something else," he said "The spy equipment is exploiting advanced technology as much as the company is exploiting advanced technology."

A company's most valuable assets are its people and the ideas they generate, Wright said. He likens protecting them, as well as business strategies and corporate policies, to an individual defending against identity theft.

"We were probably doing it before, but it was the safe in the wall or the notebook locked in the desk," he said.

Among other things, Tech Valley Security wields "bug" detection equipment, which can locate hidden eavesdropping devices by intercepting the laser signals they transmit.

For training purposes, the company has swept the CommSoft suite, an exercise Davis likens to "hide and go seek." He adds, with a mix of relief and pride, that no bugs have been found that weren't put there by Tech Valley Security.

Davis and Wolfgang have been business partners before. Davis also is an investor in Wolfgang's other post-police venture, Albany Aqua Ducks, an amphibious tour service in Albany. Wolfgang is the company's founder and pilots one of its duck boats.

With the tour business established and stable enough to weather his absence, Wolfgang, who retired as police chief in 2004, signed on with the security firm in December.

The company was incorporated in 2003 under the name of former Albany detective Timothy Murphy, who became Mayor Jerry Jennings' security detail and after that head of security at the Port of Albany.

But the business languished after Murphy's death in 2005. His widow, Toni Murphy, still technically owns it.

In recent months, the group has begun assembling a team of about 20 investigators, mostly retired law enforcement and military hands with expertise ranging from arson investigation, polygraph testing, video surveillance and cyber security.

On two walls in Wolfgang's office hang white boards covered with the names of prominent attorneys, public officials and tourist attractions to which the firm has pitched its services. Against the window blinds rests its recently inked private investigators license from the state of New York.

Davis declined to discuss the costs of the company's services, saying they can vary widely depending on the length and depth of services needed. Some, like arson investigations, can be lengthy and expensive, he said.

Wolfgang and Davis see their services as an ounce of prevention.

"The need has been identified," said Wolfgang, an Albany Aqua Ducks lapel pin tacked to the front of his tidy blue suit.

Wolfgang's exact title in the venture remains amorphous. Davis calls him the chief executive officer, an honor he modestly brushes off.

"In summer he's just the captain," Davis said with a laugh. "We promoted him back to chief."

Copyright (c) 2007, Albany Times Union, N.Y. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.