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The gumshoe candidate
Doting father, aspiring politician, and Brockton’s ‘resident dick’ — the complicated life of Mark Chauppette

THE MARDI GRAS strip club, in downtown Springfield, is not the kind of place you’d necessarily want to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. The lighting in the club is trip-over-your-feet bleak. The Bud goes for four bucks a pop, and change from a 20 comes in $1 bills. The dancers, if you can call them that, spend most of the time on their backsides, maneuvering their labia to within millimeters of the faces of the men at the bar, who sit with their eyes fixed forward, grave and attentive, as if looking for clues. One man, dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, does not join the others sliding bills across the bar. Instead, he moves about the club in a quiet, purposeful way. The man’s name is Mark Chauppette, and there’s only one stripper he’s interested in today. "I’m looking for Star," he tells the Keno attendant. "You seen Star?"

Star, it turns out, is not at the Mardi Gras the day Chauppette goes looking for her. He’ll try again later, he says. If he doesn’t get her then, he’ll try again. A Brockton-based private investigator, Chauppette has a reputation for being tenacious to a fault. His client base consists largely of defense attorneys, for whom he conducts pretrial investigations on crimes ranging from drug offenses to murder. He spends his days tracking down and interviewing witnesses, reviewing crime scenes, attempting to poke holes in police investigations or simply to find details that the police missed. He is, by all accounts, one of the best in the business. "This is a bullshit case," he says on the drive out to Springfield. "Shouldn’t even be in court." Even so, Chauppette will keep looking for Star, who may be the only person standing between an alleged criminal and prison. If, that is, a lap dance can be considered a solid alibi.

A 35-year-old divorcé and father of three, Chauppette lives something of a double life. His home is a comfortable split-level in one of Brockton’s leafier suburbs, while his work takes him to some of that city’s most violent, chaotic slums. He carries a 9mm pistol and often wears a bullet-proof vest, which he removes when he picks up his kids from school. Sometimes, he’ll find himself going directly from a crack house to a PTA meeting. "I’m trying to track this hooker down through her pimp," he says of a recent case. "I approach these three guys and ask them their names, and it’s ‘None of your fucking business,’ ‘Muhammad Ali,’ and ‘Curly.’ So I ask them: ‘Okay, None of Your Fucking Business, Muhammad Ali, and Curly, you seen this person?’" When he goes home at night, he has to make a conscious effort to stop scowling.

Juggling the roles of doting father and tough-talking PI, Chauppette says, can be a bit of a strain, and not only because the two areas essentially require two distinct personalities. The fact is, Chauppette, who has cornered the defense-investigation market in his area, is a victim of his own success. "I’ve probably got 50 cases going on," he says, sitting in his small office in Brockton. He begins pulling files from his briefcase: "Discharging a firearm, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, assault with intent to murder, domestic violence, assault and battery, murder, armed robbery, rape of a child." He pauses. "Those are the shittiest cases to work on. I don’t like doing those." But Chauppette, who struggled early in his PI career, still has difficulty turning down cases. On a normal day, he says, he gets up at 4:30 a.m.

Last year, Chauppette’s life took on an added complication when, in the middle of a golf tournament, he was approached by a man representing the Massachusetts Republican Party. The man wanted to know if Chauppette would be interested in running for state representative for the 10th Plymouth District in November. Chauppette said no. The man asked again. Chauppette said maybe. The man asked again. Chauppette said, "You know, I think I can do this." So, after getting the nod from his family, he went out and bought himself some suits, hired a campaign manager, and organized his first-ever political event, which was attended by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. His Web site, Chauppette2004.com, provides excerpts from the "impassioned" speech he made that night: "It will be a lot of work, it will be a hot summer ..." So it was that Chauppette added government reform to his long list of responsibilities.

But there are considerations other than his work schedule involved in Chauppette’s run for office. The politician, as Chauppette is well aware, must assume a very different demeanor from the project-canvassing, pimp-questioning PI. "In politics, I have to knock on people’s doors with a big smile on my face," he says. "Doing this, I step aside, because I’m afraid of taking a stray bullet." The door he’s knocking on as he says this is in a building that bears bullet holes from a recent gunfight, and Chauppette does indeed step aside. He knocks again and a muffled voice tells him, in no uncertain terms, to go away. "Most felons I speak to can’t vote," he says with a theatrical sigh. "Maybe we can change that." Then, gesturing at the dilapidated street outside, "These are the kinds of places I go. Nice area, huh?"

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Issue Date: August 6 - 12, 2004
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