State tells man tracking lost property to get a detective's license

 March 23, 2024

This story was originally published by the WND News Center.

A man who has set up a business simply identifying unclaimed property held by the state and then finding the owner has been ordered by bureaucrats to get a detective's license, or else.

Even though he never encounters a need for most of the functions of a detective.

It is the Institute for Justice that has taken up the fight on behalf of David Knott.

He "wants to help the rightful owners file paperwork" to have returned to them the estimated $5 billion in property the state now has.

"But Illinois won’t let David do that work unless he holds a completely irrelevant license," the team of lawyers explains.

"It’s a common problem. Every day, more and more accounts get misplaced, bills aren’t logged properly, and estates aren’t appropriately filed. There’s so much misplaced property that the state of Illinois has even started diverting it to fund its pension obligations. The state treasurer is supposed to return property when the owner comes forward, but people seldom know that the state is even holding their property, much less how to claim it. So that’s where David comes in. He runs a small business, called United Asset Recovery, Inc., that searches state databases to locate owners of unclaimed property and then helps people file paperwork to get it back."

He works on contingency and that means his only income is a part of what he helps others recover.

He, in fact, operated for a number of years without incident.

But just a few years ago, in 2021, "the state sent David a cease-and-desist letter, telling him he could not help anyone submit a claim without a private detective license," the IJ said.

That would require passing an exam on such topics as firearms handling, crime scene investigation, and electronic surveillance. Then he'd be ordered to do three years of work as an apprentice, a period when he could not work helping people claim their property, the IJ said.

"My clients are happy, my business is providing a useful service, and now after years of helping people and companies reclaim their rightful property Illinois wants me to get a totally irrelevant license," he said.

"It just doesn't make sense …"

The IJ pointed out that not only does a detective's license requirement not make sense, it's not constitutional.

"The First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right to petition the government. David does both," explained lawyer James Knight. "He reads government databases to identify people with unclaimed property, he tells them that they have a right to get their property back, and then he files paperwork with the government to claim the property. Even if it wasn’t protected speech, nothing he does should require a private detective license."

The new legal action, a lawsuit, seeks to vindicate Knight's constitutional rights.

"It doesn’t take a private detective license to see why Illinois might want to raise barriers to submitting property claims," noted lawyer Rob Johnson. "If David can’t help property owners submit claims, then the state is more likely to wind up keeping the property. But the state shouldn’t be using irrational licensing barriers to keep unclaimed property."

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