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Rod Wheeler, the now-notorious Fox News commentator who characterizes himself as a private investigator and whose recent comments fueled conspiracy theories about the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, isn’t even licensed to practice in D.C., and the website for his investigative firm has disappeared from the Internet.
The former Metropolitan Police Department detective has steadfastly refused to answer questions from City Paper about whether he is a licensed private investigator in D.C., which, like many jurisdictions, has strict background and other regulatory requirements overseeing the businesses and individuals in the investigative field.
But it’s clear that the jurisdiction where the murder of Rich occurred has no record of a licensed investigator by Wheeler’s name. “MPD has not found any record of a person by the name of Rod Wheeler or Roderick Wheeler being licensed as a private investigator in the District of Columbia,” police spokeswoman Rachel Reid says via email. Inquiries to licensing officials and records in Maryland and Virginia turned up no records of a Wheeler license there either.
MPD declined to comment further, but sent along a link to the relevant code, which states: “It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the business of detective, or operate, manage, or conduct a detective agency, for profit or gain, or to advertise or represent his business to be that of a detective, or that of conducting, managing, or operating a detective agency, without first obtaining a license so to do.”
City Paper began asking about Wheeler’s licensing status after his comments in a May 15 Fox 5 News story referring to Wheeler as a private investigator for the family of Seth Rich. Asked by the Fox 5 reporter about information to link Rich and Wikileaks, Wheeler said, “Absolutely. Yeah, that’s confirmed.”
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Within hours, of course, the story began to crumble. Police called Wheeler’s comments “unfounded.” Rich’s family penned an op-ed in The Washington Post noting detectives had already looked at Rich’s computer and found no evidence he was emailing Wikileaks. And the family’s attorneys sought to bar Wheeler from talking to the media. The local Fox affiliate eventually appended an editor’s note to the story saying Wheeler had “backtracked” after he told CNN he only learned of purported evidence from the Fox reporter interviewing him.
The onslaught of national media coverage largely cast Wheeler as a private investigator. Wheeler did not respond to numerous emails, phone calls, and notes left at his home and office over the past few weeks asking about his credentials. An attorney for Wheeler also did not respond to messages.
Ed Butowsky, a Dallas financial adviser, says he offered to pay Wheeler’s bills because the Rich family couldn’t afford a private investigator. He says he has no idea whether Wheeler is licensed. “I never even inquired because he’s somebody who does investigations,” says Butowsky, who adds that he met the Rich family after approaching them with information he learned about the murder.
“That is Rod’s business. I have no idea,” Butowsky says when asked about Wheeler’s licensing status. But he seems unfazed that Wheeler was mischaracterizing himself and operating outside the law, saying has done “amazing work.”
“Rod Wheeler has a very good background and a long history with the D.C. homicide,” Butowsky says, adding Wheeler hasn’t yet billed for his work. “He has lots of friends there.”
It’s true that Wheeler is a former detective, but his career at MPD ended in his firing. MPD confirms Wheeler’s past employment—and termination—in a statement: “Mr. Wheeler was employed with MPD from 1990 to 1995. He was dismissed from the agency.”
The department declined to elaborate, but a 2008 D.C. Office of Employee Appeals decision details the case of former detective Roderick Wheeler, who visited MPD’s health clinic in 1994 because he wasn’t feeling well, only to submit a urine sample that tested positive for marijuana.
Wheeler contested the charge. While it’s unclear how how the appeal ended, the 2008 ruling says MPD charged Wheeler with insubordination and fired him in 1995.
Until very recently, the website for his Capitol Investigations LLC referred to the company as the “most trusted full service Criminal and Civil Investigation firm serving Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, New York & Ohio.” The company’s site lauded Wheeler as “America’s criminal investigator” with 25 years of experience and an expert regularly seen on Fox News.
Maryland business registration lists Wheeler’s name in filings for Capitol Investigations, a sole proprietorship that formed Dec. 19, 2016. And the fine print at the bottom of the website included a copyright reference to the “Rod Wheeler Companies.”
But the site—capitolinvestigatons.com—contained no references to any licenses.
Days after City Paper began questioning Wheeler’s credentials in emails and phone calls, the website for Capitol Investigations LLC disappeared.
Jim McElhatton is a D.C. freelance reporter and a licensed private investigator.