Cyrus Yazdani is a 24-year-old San Jose State University graduate with a degree in art and a job as a convention planner in Las Vegas.
But authorities say Yazdani is also "Buket," one of Los Angeles' most prolific taggers who is featured in several heavily viewed YouTube videos defacing signs and buses. His most popular video -- with nearly 170,000 page views -- shows him clambering behind the Hollywood Freeway sign near Melrose Avenue and tagging the structure as traffic speeds below.
Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators arrested Yazdani on Tuesday, saying that his moniker has marked hundreds of freeway overpasses, concrete walls and transit buses across the state and southern Nevada. He is believed responsible for upward of $150,000 in property damage along the Los Angeles River and in the areas patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department -- and at least that much in other parts of California.
Yazdani was nabbed when he showed up to meet with his probation officer and booked on multiple charges of felony vandalism.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 29, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
Tagging suspect: A portrait photograph accompanying an article on a graffiti tagger in Wednesday's Section A misidentified the subject as suspected tagger Cyrus Yazdani. The person pictured in the paper is Michael Perretta, a hip-hop artist who goes by the name Evidence. He provided the introduction to the video allegedly showing Yazdani spray-painting an overpass above the 101 Freeway but said he did not know it would be used for that purpose. Yazdani is shown above.
Authorities are used to dealing with graffiti vandals -- even those who display their handiwork on the Internet. But there is general agreement that "Buket" is different.
According to investigators, Yazdani is a professional graphic artist. Though he works in Las Vegas, he is frequently in Los Angeles, living with roommates at a downtown Los Angeles loft. He moved to Los Angeles two years ago, authorities said.
He's older than many taggers -- but his age hasn't kept him down, said Sheriff's Deputy Devin Vanderlaan, who has tracked Buket for months.
"He's one of the most prolific taggers we've seen," Vanderlaan said. "He's on buses, overpasses, in the L.A. riverbed -- he's everywhere."
The investigators said they spotted four "Buket" scrawls Tuesday during the short trip from downtown to the Crenshaw District to pick Yazdani up at the probation office.
But you don't have to drive throughout L.A. to see "Buket's" work -- and that's what did him in, authorities said.
"Buket," they said, became something of an Internet sensation with the daredevil tagging 20 feet above the busy Hollywood Freeway -- vandalism captured on videotape and posted with a rap soundtrack on You Tube and numerous tagger-related blogs.
Another daylight attack captured on video appears to show "Buket" applying his moniker to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus as passersby and passengers watch in surprise.
It's the bus video that got Vanderlaan's attention.
"If he's brave enough to tag on an MTA bus in the middle of the day, I've gotta find out who this guy is," he said.
Vanderlaan started investigating "Buket" in January, when the Internet videos began appearing. It turned out, he quickly learned, that "Buket" was a well-known figure in the graffiti world whose work had been featured in the art book "Los Angeles Graffiti."
The book's author, Roger Gastman, said "Buket" is known as a "bomber" who tries to cover as much ground with his graffiti as possible.
"He did a lot of in-your-face graffiti," Gastman said. "He goes big, bold and as many places as he can."
Sheriff's investigators said they determined that "Buket" was the moniker for Yazdani, who has been arrested several times on suspicion of graffiti vandalism in cities including Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Jose. He was on probation for a 2007 tagging conviction.
But finding Yazdani proved difficult, in part because he works in Las Vegas and travels frequently in California, authorities said.
Yazdani, who was booked into Los Angeles County Jail, could not be reached for comment.
But Vanderlaan said that when he was arrested, Yazdani insisted that he "doesn't do it anymore."
Investigators, however, say they don't believe him. Vanderlaan said they found spray cans at Yazdani's downtown loft along with images stored in a computer that allegedly showed him in action.
Upswing in graffiti
In the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, crews removed nearly 40 million square feet of graffiti in 2007, nearly double the 21 million square feet removed in 2004, according to county public works records. The cleanup cost was nearly $30 million.
Law enforcement officials and others said they have noticed an upswing in graffiti in recent years.