Meet the Real Life ‘Hebrew Hammer’
JOE LEVIN, a private investigator in Brooklyn, was waiting to meet a new client in the parking lot of a kosher supermarket in Borough Park one recent morning. Glancing in the side-view mirror of his chauffeured sport utility vehicle, Mr. Levin said he liked this particular spot because he knew the manager, the delivery man and the security guard, who lets him borrow footage from the lot’s surveillance equipment.
Most of the time, though, Mr. Levin does his own snooping. On his iPad, he scrolled through photographs of people he was being paid about $100 an hour to follow, including a rebellious Hasidic girl in a white miniskirt and a long-bearded rabbi lighting a cigarette on the sidewalk.
“He’s a bad guy,” Mr. Levin said, enlarging the rabbi’s image. “A very bad guy.”
Not your usual private eye, Mr. Levin is a practicing Orthodox Jew, a member of the Bobov Hasidic sect and the founder of T.O.T. Private Investigation and Consulting, a New York-based company that specializes in Orthodox-related cases worldwide. The company, whose focus is uncommon — and perhaps unique in the United States — hires forensic experts, former homicide detectives, photographers and even pilots, mostly on a per-case basis. Its services range from investigations into international banks and Israeli investment companies to local background checks for prospective Shidduchim, or Orthodox marital arrangements.
Since Mr. Levin started the business 12 years ago, his life has often resembled the plot of a TV crime drama. He has trailed unwitting subjects into synagogues and strip clubs, sat beside them on international flights and tracked them down in remote areas of Puerto Rico and Brazil.
While he usually wears the black frock coat and fedora of the Hasidim, when undercover he has donned stocking caps and Yankees jerseys to conceal his brown knit skullcap and tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.
His organization’s mission is encoded in the name T.O.T., an acronym for the Yiddish expression “Tuchis afn tish.”