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A Profitable Eye on Inevitable Infidelity

Keeping tabs on cheating partners 'has bought me a nice house,' says sleuth John Nazarian. And it has taught unhappy lessons on the nature of man and marriage.

December 28, 2000|ELISE GEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His gaze trained on the street scene outside his car, private investigator John Nazarian waits.

Music pulsates along the Sunset Strip as Hollywood twentysomethings drift in and out of clubs, and Nazarian passes the night, watching for a woman and her teenage lover.

Cradled in the leather seat of his Chevrolet Caprice, sipping black coffee, he listens to golden oldies. He has spent many nights like this, watching, sipping, waiting.

Nazarian often begins stakeouts as the rest of the world winds down. As he's fond of saying, cockroaches don't come out in the bright light of day.

Tonight he works for a wealthy client of five years whose girlfriend cheats, lately with a 19-year-old car detailer.

The client accepts his girlfriend's infidelity. He just likes to keep tabs on when, where and with whom the indiscretions occur, Nazarian says.

But after two hours, there's no sign of the couple. Then, about 1:30 a.m., Nazarian receives the signal that tonight's work is done. His client's voice crackles over a cell phone that doubles as a two-way radio.

"She's home," he says.

The stakeout will cost the client $295, Nazarian's minimum for surveillance work.

"Infidelity has bought me a nice house," Nazarian says. "Infidelity has bought me a lot of nice jewelry."

A former San Francisco sheriff's deputy, Nazarian began his own investigation firm about a decade ago and now employs 22 agents. A good portion of his business comes from clients with cheating partners.

In his 40s, he has never married and probably never will. He can be miserable alone, he says.

"Infidelity is one of the great betrayals," Nazarian says. "It's a terrible thing to do to someone." Men, he says, are the greater offenders.

His meaty hands punctuate points as he expounds in a Boston accent about marriage, fidelity and the nature of man. Gold chains encircle his sturdy neck, and the street light bounces off his shaved head, his resigned solution to balding.

"It's so sad," Nazarian says. "Men are dogs. They'll cheat in a heartbeat."

Trying to keep men from cheating is like trying to prevent dogs from marking their territory, he says. Nazarian, who once aspired to be a veterinarian, frequently dispenses dog analogies. But, he says, he has the attention span of a German shepherd.

His nights are not always this easy, he says. Sometimes he crouches beneath open windows, digs through trash or bribes hotel maids.

When he succeeds, he says, "I run back to my client like a dog with a bone. It's like, pat me on the head, pat me on the head. I love it."

*

One of Nazarian's more unusual cases involved a man who had fallen in love with his male phone sex operator. The client, described by Nazarian as three cans short of a six-pack, wanted him to track down the operator.

"The love of his life was not the blue-eyed, blond-haired Adonis, body of David, he was looking for," Nazarian says. He was a paunchy, middle-aged man of average looks who happened to be outside gardening when Nazarian drove up.

Nazarian remembers another case of a woman fighting for custody of her children. She hired him to photograph her husband in a compromising situation. Nazarian planted 10 gorgeous women in a nightclub the husband frequented. After three or four cocktails, the husband took two of the women to a hotel room. They locked him out of the suite in his underwear, and Nazarian quickly snapped the pictures. The husband was supposed to be home watching the kids, Nazarian said.

The private eye admits to pangs of guilt about exposing the unfaithful but says he has much more sympathy for the jilted, such as a current client whose marriage just went flooey.

On a Wednesday night, Nazarian is working for her, on stakeout on a quiet street in the Hollywood Hills. The client, who is young and beautiful, he says, was ready to settle down with her husband in their new home when the husband began an affair with their real estate agent. The wife wants pictures.

"I think she wants a piece of him," Nazarian says.

When three people leave the house, Nazarian pulls behind them. As they caravan closely down Hollywood Boulevard, he doesn't worry about being noticed. If he is, there's always another investigator and another car to pick up where he leaves off. And most people are oblivious to someone following them, he says.

For example, the woman now dating her car detailer never knew that Nazarian once tailed them to her boyfriend's mansion.

Nazarian had to call his client to report that his girlfriend was home, on the other side of the mansion, in bed with another man.

And yes, she has even fooled around with the pool guy, Nazarian says. Why does the boyfriend tolerate it?

"She's a good-looking lady."

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