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The gumshoe candidate (continued)

THE IDEA of someone saving his sick sons by running for political office might sound far-fetched, but Chauppette has spent much of his life overcoming the odds. He was born in 1969, to a woman who immediately put him up for adoption. His adoptive parents, William and Elizabeth, raised him in a solid, blue-collar household in Whitman. In high school, Chauppette did not stand out. He was not a particularly strong student or a particularly accomplished athlete. He was one of those kids who get by through sheer force of will. He was a pretty good artist, he says, but that didn’t seem like something he could build a life on. As graduation approached, he was floundering. "I think in my yearbook I wrote that I wanted to be a gym teacher," he says. "That or being a policeman."

Because he has difficulty taking tests — he suspects he may have a learning disability — Chauppette’s attempts to become a policeman failed. And so, at the age of 18, the baby-faced art buff entered the state-prison system, working as a correctional officer at MCI-Bridgewater. It was here that he developed the steely edge that has proven so valuable to him in his PI work. "I got along good with the inmates," he says. "Some guys they took advantage of — they ask you to bring in a pencil and the next thing you know you’re lugging in cocaine — but the inmates never messed with me. You can’t bend. It’s about gaining respect."

In his early 20s, Chauppette’s life took an odd turn. "I decided it wasn’t for me," he says of his prison job. "They say doing 20 years in corrections is like doing an eight-year bid yourself." And so, armed with the conviction that he wanted to do something more with his life, Chauppette set out to look for a new career path. For a while, he dabbled in modeling. When this didn’t pan out, he secured himself a position at a Fame-like workshop in Hollywood, where he "ate, slept, and shit acting for three months." His father was appalled. "First of all, he couldn’t understand why I’d be leaving a $35,000-a-year job," Chauppette says. "He pulled me aside and said, ‘Son, are you gay?’"

It didn’t take long for Chauppette to realize that Hollywood producers were not going to be breaking down his door. So, like many a struggling actor, he took a job as a pizza-delivery man. When pizza started to wear thin, he picked up the Yellow Pages and flipped through it for ideas. "I saw this beautiful half-page ad for a private detective," he recalls. "I go, ‘Cool! That’s what I want to do.’" Chauppette called the number in the ad and got Douglas Florence, who hired him. "We did some crazy shit," Chauppette says, "a lot of domestic stuff, driving up and down the LA freeway at crazy rates of speed." Immediately, the fledgling PI displayed an aptitude for the job. "What impressed me the most was his confidence," Florence says. "He was a very quick learner. Very quick on his feet."

Then, in 1992, Chauppette’s mother died, and he moved back home to be with his family. "That was a tremendous loss," Florence says. "I never replaced him. I never found somebody of that caliber." Despite his success in LA, things did not go so smoothly for Chauppette in Brockton. "I was struggling to bring money in," he says, "making small-time dough." His father, convinced that private investigation was another of his son’s pipe dreams, begged Chauppette to resume his career with the Department of Correction. William, who died in 2001, never really understood what would make someone choose to forego job security, benefits, a weekly check. "My family had this factory mentality," Chauppette says. "But I had that risk-taking mentality." The risk paid off. Today, he is widely regarded as one of the top criminal investigators in the state.

What makes Chauppette such a successful investigator, say those who work with him, is his willingness to go out and get his hands dirty. Indeed, in an age when many PIs seem content to work almost exclusively on the Internet, Chauppette’s old-school, pavement-pounding, door-banging ethos has left attorneys clamoring for his services. "I think we live in a world of laziness, and I just do not subscribe to that," Chauppette says when asked about his fabled work ethic. "I’d rather write everything by hand, go out there and hoof it. That’s how you find information, on the ground, on the street. I’m notorious for disturbing people on Saturday mornings."

NOT EVERYONE in Brockton is a fan of Chauppette’s investigative style. "You should go talk to that guy," he says, pointing to an assistant DA sitting in the Dunkin’ Donuts adjacent to his office. "He called me a piece of shit, said I don’t play by the rules." This attorney, along with others, believes that Chauppette is a little too diligent about his work. "Assistant DAs think I’m too aggressive," he says. "They file complaints about me. They complain, but that’s what my clients like." For his part, Plymouth County DA Timothy Cruz insists he has no problem with Chauppette. "I think some people may misinterpret the things he’s doing," Cruz says. "We all have our jobs to do. Mark plays by the rules."

Defense attorney Joe Krowski, who sometimes uses Chauppette as an investigator, laughs at the too-aggressive charge. "Wouldn’t that be a feather in his cap," he says, adding, "They’re all whiners on that side. A guy like Mark does his job and they get irritated. I can’t think of anything negative to say about him. Once he gets started, he won’t stop. He’ll get in that car and just drive. Sometimes, he’ll have the pictures on your desk before you’ve put the phone down." Krowski does admit to having a concern about Chauppette’s political career: "I don’t want to lose him as a private investigator."

Despite his lack of experience, Chauppette believes that if he can apply to politics the kind of energy and drive that has marked his career as a PI, then he can hardly fail to succeed. "Boom!" he says. "It will skyrocket just like my business." In any event, Chauppette continues, the voters will likely respond favorably to his outsider status. They’ll appreciate his blue-collar roots, his Everyman honesty and decency. There is one slight flaw in this reasoning, however: in politics, honesty and decency do not always work to one’s advantage. Particularly honesty.

The first time he met Christine Canavan, the Democratic incumbent in the 10th Plymouth District and Chauppette’s rival in November, he walked up to her and said, "You look a lot better in person than you do on your Web site." Though he laughs at this now — "She didn’t know whether to take it as an insult or a compliment" — the story illustrates what may turn out to be Chauppette’s biggest handicap: his tendency to shoot from the hip and to hell with the consequences. "My girlfriend thinks I’ll change, but I can’t," he says. "That’s when you become fake." Later, responding to a question about his lack of detailed political knowledge, he says, "People who say they know the answer to everything, fuck them, ’cause they’re full of shit. And you can quote that. I don’t care."

In his role as an investigator, Chauppette’s raw speaking style is not only acceptable, but beneficial — criminals and lawyers alike tend to respond to the odd well-chosen expletive. Voters, meanwhile, may not be so receptive. And yet, even when talking to a reporter, knowing that this stuff is on the record, Chauppette’s language clatters with profanity. "This is a bullshit, fucking bogus case," he says while driving to interview a woman who recently retracted her claim that she’d been beaten by her boyfriend. "The client and the victim are both heavily involved with drugs. The question is, did he fucking do it or didn’t he?" Even when he’s not swearing, Chauppette has an uncanny ability to be impolitic — when pointing out, for instance, the irony of his running on a tough-on-crime platform: "More crime means more business for me!"

But there are at least some indications that Chauppette is beginning to learn the art of political discretion. At one point, he addresses the conventional wisdom that Brockton is an intractably Democratic city. "I don’t know, we’re all human," he says, assuming an air of gravity. "We all bleed red. As far as I know, if I sliced any of my constituents open, they’d have the same color blood." There is a pause. "Once it hits the air." He pauses again. "Now don’t go writing that I’m going to be slicing any of my constituents open." Later, he interrupts himself in the middle of a stream of expletives. "I can turn on the F-bombs when I want to," he says with a laugh. "In politics I’ll have to be careful. I can’t say, ‘Hey, Lieutenant Governor Healey, how’s your fucking day been?’"

Chris Wright can be reached at cwright@phx.com

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Issue Date: August 6 - 12, 2004
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