On Valentine’s Day, the businessman was determined to be with the woman he loved.
That woman, unfortunately, was not his wife.
The lovebirds nestled in a corner booth at an Italian restaurant in Dunedin, showing little discretion.
Lips locked on lips, on wrists, on ears, shoulders, necks. Hands disappeared into clothing.
They could be seen by diners at only two tables.
At one sat private investigator Kevin Collins, hired by the businessman’s wife. At the other, coincidentally, sat the imperceptive adulterer’s boss.
“(He) asked his boss to recommend a place to take his wife,” Collins recalled. “But he takes his girlfriend. He doesn’t think his boss might go there with his (own) wife on Valentine’s Day?”
Exposing Valentine’s Day dalliances was not uncommon for Collins, of Clearwater, and legions of detectives like him. Cheaters run amok on Feb. 14, and private investigators run around trying to catch them in the act. Today is one of the industry’s busiest days.
That’s particularly true in Florida, St. Petersburg investigator Rick Aspen said, partly thanks to Florida’s no-fault divorce law: “Couples can get a divorce at any time for any reason.”
Why is Valentine’s Day the Super Bowl of surveillance? Paul Dank of the nationwide Advanced Surveillance Group said the adulterer feels the need to spend time with both of his – or her – significant others on that day.
Or, at least, close to it. Weekends that surround the holiday also are filled with infidelity, said Dank, whose agency runs the website www.CheatingSpousePI.com.
“Yeah, I know, but if you think your spouse is cheating on you, you need to be able to find our services,” said Dank, who works in the Detroit area.
Business is good because infidelity in general has been on the rise, says Dank, who credits a continual increase in male-female office relationships.
He says time management is key to romancing more than one lover on a holiday, and that’s why some cheaters meet their obligation in abbreviated fashion.
“That’s a Valentine classic – 15 minutes in the back of a parking lot,” said investigator Collins. “Just to show her you care.”
Maybe it’s also a Florida thing, said Carol Sciannameo, a retired NYPD lieutenant who works as a detective in Gulfport.
“In New York, you actually have drinks, get a hotel,” she said. “Down here, we had these two go into the Home Depot parking lot, and you could see the car bouncing up and down. And they came out lighting cigarettes.”
Tom Santarlas, an investigator with Brandon Investigative Analysis in Brandon, said there’s another reason “domestic surveillance” is popular this time of year: Many people get engaged on Valentine’s Day. Some want to make sure their intended is being completely honest about life experiences both past and present.
“Mostly men will call us before the holiday because they usually propose,” Santarlas said. “And women come to us later, after the emotional response from the engagement on Valentine’s Day, when it begins to dawn on them that this is a serious matter.”
But it’s better to know before the engagement. A woman contracted Santarlas’ agency because she suspected her boyfriend was stepping out with her co-worker. She didn’t even know the half of it.
“We did video surveillance on her boyfriend, and he met a young lady,” Santarlas said. “And then he met a second young lady. And a third. All within a 24-hour period.”
And by met, he means?
“Well, there’s no video surveillance to support it,” Santarlas said. But yes, the “totality of evidence” suggested the subject had relations with once, twice, three times a lady.
The detective told his client he had good news – she hadn’t wasted her money – and bad news: Her beau has his own harem.
Said Santarlas: “She was visibly distraught.”
And that’s why, all kidding aside, detectives such as Dank consider the job a public service.
People need to appreciate “the grief and pain and distress having your spouse cheating on you causes,” he said.
“Those people are in real pain. There’s no way, shape or form people could argue that what we’re doing is not of value to our clients.”
But it’s no fun for the cheaters, such as the businessman whose corner booth left him cornered. The outcome was ugly.
Doubly busted, the cheater ended up dejected, divorced and – Collins heard through the grapevine – demoted.
“I hear his manager didn’t cotton to chasin’ tail,” the detective said. “Thought it lacked moral fiber and all.”
[Originally appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, February 14, 2006.]