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The gumshoe candidate (continued)

IN PHOTOGRAPHS of Chauppette’s first campaign event, the lieutenant governor stands almost a head taller than the budding candidate, as did many of the girls at the Mardi Gras. Indeed, at five-foot-seven and 175 pounds, Chauppette is not what you’d call a large man. He is fit, though, and tough-looking, with cropped brown hair, sharp features, and piercing blue-green eyes. When you take into account that Chauppette’s a power lifter, martial-arts aficionado, and former bare-knuckle fighter, he can cut a somewhat intimidating figure. But then, in his line of work, Chauppette needs all the intimidation he can muster. "Lots of times I’m going out there alone," he says. "I may be on a domestic-violence call, there could be someone behind the door with warrants against them. There have been processors who’ve died while serving something as simple as a summons. It’s dangerous."

Chauppette is filled with anecdotes that illustrate this point. While he was testifying in a court case last year, the defendant leapt over the rails and attempted to throttle Chauppette with his handcuff chain. Not long ago, a cannonade of gang-related gunfire peppered the street that Chauppette, a few minutes earlier, had been canvassing. Then there was the case that took him into the heart of a project in Boston, where he was quickly circled by "six Hispanic gentlemen" who did not seem interested in discussing the finer points of criminal law. "I picked out the leader, got in his face, and told him to back down and he did," he recalls. "Of course, I walked away with shit dripping down my leg."

The prospect of violence, though, is not the only disagreeable aspect of the PI’s job. There is, for instance, the time he spends sifting through used diapers, rotten banana peels, and discarded chop suey. "Sometimes, the best way to get intelligence is to go through someone’s trash," Chauppette explains. "I’ve pulled trash in LA, in Las Vegas, I’ve pulled trash in Virginia, Washington, Florida, wherever." This has been a staple of Chauppette’s job since he first got involved in the industry, 13 years ago. "I have an old photo of Mark I wish I could share," says security consultant Douglas Florence, the man who got Chauppette started in the PI business. "It’s of him carrying two big bags of trash down an alley with his shirt off and his trousers rolled up. He looks like a street person."

There are some jobs, though, that even Chauppette shies away from: surveillance, which he finds boring, and divorce cases, which he finds depressing. At the start of his career it was a different matter. Back then, he’d delight in doing stuff like entering a hotel room disguised as a room-service waiter, whipping out a camera, and snapping pictures of a couple in flagrante before sprinting away. "Afterwards, you’re excited," he says, "but you’re also telling this dude that his wife’s been banging someone for the last 10 years. You’re saying, ‘I got her!’ and this guy’s bawling his eyes out." He recalls going undercover at a department store where the employees were suspected of stealing merchandise. After spending months befriending his fellow workers, Chauppette helped put some of them behind bars. "I didn’t like that," he says. "I don’t take those jobs anymore."

Even today, though, Chauppette takes on cases he’d rather not. On a recent rainy afternoon, he knocks on the door of a woman whose young daughter was allegedly raped by an adult. "This is not fun," he says. "This is uncomfortable." Eventually, a middle-aged black woman appears, her eyes wide with alarm behind her thick-lensed glasses. Chauppette explains who he is, but the woman’s English is not so good. Still, she invites the investigator into her cramped and cluttered home. "Come in, come in." Inside, a few children sit eating slices of cake, one of them a teenage girl. On the table nearby, the half-eaten cake’s message, written out in blue icing, is still legible: HAPPY 16TH BIRTHDAY.

As Chauppette conducts his interview with the mother, who has ushered her children from the room, he winces with discomfort. He explains, over and over, that he is there to represent the defense, that no one is required to speak to him. "You can ask me to leave," he tells the woman, and when she doesn’t, he says it again. There follows a strange impasse — Chauppette eager to be sent packing, the mother too polite to do anything but sit and try to understand his questions. Finally, he asks her if she plans on pursuing the case, and the woman stiffens in her chair. "Why not?" she says. "My daughter was raped." The daughter — the birthday girl — appears in a doorway and the mother shouts at her to get out. Now she is ready to ask Chauppette to leave. "Some cases really get to you," he says afterward. "But you have to do your job."

Back at his office, Chauppette is in a pensive mood. "I come across as this tough guy," he says, "but I’m very sensitive, very emotional." This is certainly true when he discusses his own kids, a subject that inspires him to say things like "Each day with them is precious." Chauppette has three children from his marriage, which ended in 1998: Elizabeth, who’s 11, and nine-year-old twins named Troy and Andrew. Shortly after they were born, the twins were diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This form of the disease is degenerative and terminal — statistically, the boys probably won’t live past their early 30s. Though Chauppette hasn’t given up hope that a cure will be found, there are times when the situation bears down on him to an unendurable degree. "It’s like torture," he says, "a pain I wouldn’t wish on anybody, an indescribable feeling."

It is for his children, Chauppette says, that he gets out of bed in the morning. It is for them that he takes on more cases than he probably should. It is for them that he networks at charity events and political functions. And, ultimately, it is for his children that he is running for office. Chauppette can talk at length about fighting crime and improving education. He is ardent, and believable, when he says he will stand up for his principles — Republican or no, he won’t back down from his support for gay marriage and reproductive rights. Even so, you get the sense that, for Chauppette, politics may be a means to an end. "Mark gets what he needs," says Plymouth County DA Timothy Cruz, referring to Chauppette’s investigative work. What he needs right now, though, is a way to help his sons. "I just want my boys in my life forever," he writes in an e-mail. "I will continue to fight to stop this fucking dreaded disease!"

Chauppette seems unsure how his fight will be furthered by entering politics. "It may open doors, spread awareness among people who have power," he says, adding, "Not that I’ll turn my back on my constituents. I think they’ll respect the fact that I fight for people I care about."

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Issue Date: August 6 - 12, 2004
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