Tyler is the co-founder of Quest Research & Investigations (QRI), a private investigations firm that specializes in large, complex projects, from unraveling corporate structures to spearheading cases that support the public interest. He has worked on many high-profile cases, including that of rapper Meek Mill and Serial’s Adnan Syed.
Tyler describes good investigation as built upon thinking like a contrarian: challenging assertions considered right or normal by asking questions, listening carefully, and thinking critically to get at the truth of a situation.
He remembers his sixth-grade history teacher at Grace, Myrna Schloss, who rejected textbooks and taught by lecture, requiring students to take detailed notes, something Tyler believes taught him how to listen and write effectively. In high school, another history teacher introduced him to the ideas of Howard Zinn, who approached history from the perspective of the disenfranchised rather than those in power, and challenged historical narratives.
These lessons would turn out to be essential to Tyler’s career. After graduating from Alfred University with a degree in history, he set out for a career in journalism. He worked as a fact checker at Time magazine and then as a reporter for Fortune magazine. During that time, a fellow Fortune reporter, Bethany McLean, broke the Enron story, revealing a massive financial fraud. The fallout of that piece of investigative journalism resonated with Tyler. Journalists like McLean, another contrarian, inspired him to shift to investigative journalism, a move that would give his writing what Tyler describes as a “central nervous system.”
His shift toward investigative writing (and a hardnosed and convincing producer) landed him a job producing documentaries for Frontline. But the media industry was going through changes of its own and, by chance, he was introduced to people at Kroll, a major investigative firm that frequently hired journalists. Kroll hired Tyler, who traded journalistic bylines for clients. Maroney stayed at Kroll for four years, and then moved on to the Mintz Group, another large investigative firm, for six more years. While Tyler enjoyed the work of an investigator, he never completely gave up journalism, publishing pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about the business of private investigation.
Tyler has given a lot of thought to the overlapping approaches of investigative journalism and private investigation, but notes that they differ meaningfully. Take for example a civil lawsuit in which someone who has been wrongly convicted of a crime sues the police department after being exonerated for committing a crime he did not commit. Tyler says, “In a case like that, I am not investigating what happened, but specifically how the police department treated the defendant badly.”
He points out, “This is very different from a journalistic approach. If, in the investigation, I discover that a police officer fabricated evidence to frame someone, that helps my client, but if I discover that the DA’s office is involved in running some money laundering operation, that doesn’t help my client and is not relevant to my case. While the information about the DA is something that would make front page news as a journalist, it doesn't help my case.” This, Tyler adds, is the fascinating nuance that a PI learns; it’s what gives the investigation purpose.
In 2014, Tyler and Luke Brindle-Khym, a friend and former Kroll colleague, created their own investigations firm, QRI, not only to work for themselves, but also to focus on investigative work that could serve the public interest. With Tyler’s media savvy background in journalism combined with Luke’s experience as an attorney and his work in the Labor movement, they felt that they could make a difference.
In 2019, two already high-profile cases they’d been investigating hit the spotlight in streaming documentaries: The Case Against Adnan Syed on HBO, a follow up to the viral podcast Serial, which re-investigated a 15-year old teenage murder case, and Amazon’s Free Meek, about the case of Meek Mill, a rapper arrested for drug and gun charges at age 19, whose probation violations kept him in and out of prison for 12 years. Each case looked closely at the system that tried these men, and raised serious questions about the criminal justice in the United States. In both films, Tyler, Luke, and QRI play a major role.
While the reinvestigation of the Syed case turned up inaccuracies in his trial and defense, it was not enough to overturn his conviction. Mill’s case was more clear cut; after serving time in prison, he was sentenced to probation, a murky area of the criminal justice system. Minor violations of probation terms are sometimes punished harshly and unfairly. (A notable example is in 2017, Meek’s trial judge sentenced him to two to four years in state prison because he popped a wheelie on a dirt bike in New York City.)
In Mill’s case, QRI discovered that the only witness who testified against Mill was a cop who had a history of corruption and unreliable testimony, a detail which persuaded an appeals court to overturn Mill’s conviction. Mill was facing a retrial in Philadelphia, but he pleaded to a misdemeanor, closing out 13 years of debilitatingly restrictive life in the court system.
Tyler points out the broader win QRI’s work exposing the corrupt cop inspired other criminal defense attorneys whose clients had been investigated by Mill’s arresting officer to reexamine their clients’ cases, resulting in dozens of other convictions being overturned. So, while Meek Mill had a fighting chance because of his fame and broad celebrity support, dozens of others whose cases might not ever have been looked at twice, benefitted as well. For Tyler, that was the point of founding QRI—doing work in the public interest.
Many activists -- from Jay-Z, whose Roc Nation is Mill’s management company (and was among Tyler’s clients on this case) to academics -- explain that Mill’s case symbolizes structural racism in the criminal justice system, particularly as it relates to the probation sentencing. Millions of people who have been arrested early in their lives, many of them black, live in fear of being sent back to prison for minor violations. While Meek’s case is over, Tyler is now working with a number of criminal justice reform organizations to examine the broader issues that Mill’s celebrity helped expose to a large audience.
Tyler says that investigating for people who are wrongly convicted is a complex version of asking questions that go against the norm – the contrarian training in full bloom. He hopes that one day, 100% of QRI’s investigations can be done in the public interest. Until then, QRI will continue working with companies, NGO’s, and nonprofits that have missions they believe in, like the Innocence Project. Tyler and the team also conduct investigations on behalf of indigent defendants through public programs like the Criminal Justice Act, a federal program that provides lawyers and experts to those who cannot afford them.
In reflecting on his work, Tyler invoked George Orwell: "In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Here’s to the revolution.
By Micaela Macagnone - Class of 2016