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By Laura Saari
Private investigators are staffing up for a predictable February ritual: a spike in snooping. When it comes to marital surveillances, Valentine’s Day remains the private eye payday of the year.
This year, the business got a small push from one of O.C.’s own, Tiger Woods. I don’t know how you felt, but I just wanted the revelations to stop. It just got too sad. Because catching cheaters, however titillating, means a family is falling apart.
Newport Beach private investigator Tom Martin knows the dark side of the day of hearts and flowers better than most. He usually gets 10 to 15 clients a week. In past Februarys, though, he has served as many as 25 in a single day. At Martin Investigative Services, that means extra staff, as well as additional video and digital cameras for the cars, not to mention additional secretaries to type up reports.
“Everybody knows it’s the best time to catch a [cheating] mate. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” says Martin, whose company has been doing surveillance work for more than 30 years. “If you’re having an affair, you almost 100 percent have to be with that one person on Valentine’s Day. Both parties expect it.”
He says women are more likely than men to ask for a special date on that day. “The man doesn’t care if he gets laid on a Tuesday, a Wednesday, on Christmas, on Valentine’s Day. But the women are in it for emotional reasons—they don’t just want sushi at lunchtime. They want to have the nice dinner, the drinks—then go to the hotel and knock it out. The problem for the married ones is: How do they figure out dinner and an evening out with their spouse and someone else?”
I went on surveillance with Martin years ago, a crazy adrenaline ride that took us from a Carl’s Jr. in Irvine, following a blonde with a vanity plate bearing the word “hot,” all the way to the door of a room at a La Quinta Inn. That knock on the hotel room door was like something out of an old detective movie. What I remember most is the flash when the guy opened the door. I’m not talking about the camera. The guy had only a towel around his waist, and his body looked so pale.
The pinhole cameras, the grainy pictures of couples sharing illicit kisses in dimly lit restaurant booths, the journals detailing travels from workplace to restaurant to midpriced motel. In the Information Age, the work of the gumshoe seems quaintly old-fashioned.
Martin says the Internet makes his business easier because most cheaters leave “an unbelievable trail.” And yet, for many spouses, e-mail evidence is not enough.
“Most people still want the same thing they wanted in the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s,” Martin says. “They want The Photograph. We give them their finality.”
He has handled many high-profile cases. I accompanied him several years ago to follow a swarthy gigolo. He was a fake golf pro who picked up women while driving down Coast Highway in a Porsche convertible. The guy ended up in the slammer, and the case ended up as a TV movie. Martin also has followed a few ballplayers and celebrities, including one athlete and his girlfriend who Martin filmed in a car in the Angel Stadium parking lot.
Some stakeouts take his investigators on wild rides, crossing state lines, racing to board planes, switching destinations suddenly. He recalls a “single-name rock star” who ditched Martin’s three investigators by disappearing out the driveway of a Beverly Hills hotel in a line-up of five black Suburbans. The SUVs headed off in five directions.
Last summer, he followed “a world-class business person, very well known” after his wife reported finding suspicious things in his briefcase. The man, who was in his early 40s, started the day in an Irvine hotel with one woman at 9:30 a.m., met another in Newport Beach before noon, had lunch with a third date in Glendale, then went to Los Angeles and met another in a room at 4 p.m. He then went home, changed clothes, and drove to the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles for another assignation. What was in his briefcase that made his wife suspicious?
Viagra, Cialis, and condoms.