The Gift of Strange, a Private Eye Top 10

Do anything long enough and it becomes a blur. I have worked in the business since 1994. Still, there are those wonderful cases that keep fresh past expiration.

It’s the sidewalk slip-and-falls, the auto v. pedestrian crashes and the misdemeanor criminal defense cases that head straight for the temporal lobe trash bin of this private investigator. I do 80-percent of my cases for trial lawyers, mostly for plaintiffs’ attorneys and criminal defense lawyers. So it’s not exactly National Enquirer material most of the time.

The odd domestic cases, i.e., cheating spouse stuff, still speak to me. They are parts humor, bathos, pathos and adrenaline surge. What follows is a mish-mash of strange. (Thanks to the for allowing me to write about some of them.) What follows are some highlights from 2000 to 2010.

1. Sad man wonders whether his wife was in porn 40 years ago. I think this is my “winner” right here. A perfect storm of weird.

2. Woman severely injured when her leg is almost severed by a piece of guardrail that punctured her car. Turns out, Caltrans contractor installed guardrail incorrectly, putting more rigid parts at the end instead of in the middle.

3. The dog poop trial. My departed friend James Perley had no choice but to go to trial after his client, a yard man, fell from a ladder that had slipped in dog crap. The man shattered his knee on the pavement below and lay suffering in the yard for10 hours until his neighbor found him. He had told the homeowner to pick up after her dog. The insurance company refused to pay anything, forcing trial. Perley and his client lost.

4. What’s almost as bad as child molestation? That depraved relative Elder Abuse. A Berkeley couple Silvia and George Yonko ripped off at least a dozen elderly Oakland men for an estimated $5 million. I did some work for the District Attorney and one of the victim’s families. The Yonkos did about five or six years in prison but my sources indicate they are still pulling the same old scams. They are evil.

5. I had a woman client who hired me to find her boyfriend, whom she had not seen since about the time she learned she was pregnant. The story itself is not that unusual but the chase for how I found him rates me as on par with Nascar. I managed to follow him in his new Porsche from his venture capital firm in Palo Alto to San Francisco and to his new love nest. I tailed him at speeds up to 100 mph, in my old Honda Civic DX.

6. A valet for a major hotel chain argued with a guest while on duty at a Peninsula hotel. The valet shot and killed the man. Why? He didn’t move his car fast enough. I learned that the same valet had a history of on the job confrontations in San Francisco but the employer decided to transfer him instead of firing him.

7. Pot fans won’t like this next one. A father in the marijuana trade more or less kidnapped his son from Oregon before winding up in a quiet Oakland hills neighborhood. I confirmed that the father and son were living at the house, and then Oakland police swooped in to rescue the boy.

8. A client in Alameda swore that her husband was smuggling dames into their house while she slept. I told her that this was highly unlikely. She laid some Benjamins on me. I can tell you that few places are quieter than Alameda from 11 p.m to 6 a.m., two nights in a row. With hindsight, she was a member of the tinfoil hat brigade.

9. An Australian businessman came to San Francisco. All fine and well until his Mrs. back in Oz counted some of his boner pills and realized he took a few for his travels. We got some footage of the old guy walking arm and arm through Union Square with his young Asian “business colleague,” bedecked in leopard print dress.

10. My old associate Cornelius and I tailed a guy cheating on his wife. The highlight of our case came when we got video footage of them coming out of a van together near the Emeryville Marina and tucking in various items of clothing. The “low” arrived when our target realized he was being followed and chases me through Piedmont Avenue at about 60 mph before I escaped.

ABC’s Noyes Annoys Oakland “Mystery Gypsy”

For a good laugh but also solid content check out the ABC I Team’s probe of a couple of psychic shops in Oakland.

The laugh comes when reporter Dan Noyes confronts shop owner Peter George with an undercover recording of George and a woman in the shop trying to hit up a decoy customer for $5,000 for a life-size candle that, when burned, will rid the customer’s husband of cancer.

When the shop owner froths at the mouth and threatens Noyes, the reporter has a smirk and look on his face like he has been through this a thousand times. (Think Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes in his early years…) The shop owner, who dared Noyes to come back inside his Dimond District parlor, later apologizes in the I-Team blog section.

It might be tempting to dismiss Noyes for his aging pretty-boy looks, or his arrogance or his smugness, but he and his I-Team do very good work. He has been the only Bay Area media person staying on top of the latest wave of psychic scams. In case you haven’t noticed, Oakland/Berkeley are home to a growing number of psychics. One disturbing aspect of these shops is the lack of local and state regulations. We license dog groomers but no background checks or requirements for fortune tellers.

DA’s investigator Kathy Boyovich, who I once assisted, makes the point in the I-Team video that it’s not just the elderly or mentally-impaired who fall prey to con artists. ( I chronicled my work with her in a piece for ) The I-Team found and interviewed a victim in the South Bay taken for $130,000.

When The Chronicle ran a recent article about an elderly victim, the comments section posters made fun of her for being “stupid” or a “sucker.” Cons don’t just hurt people in the wallet, they hurt their pscyhe and dignity. As a private investigator I have looked into the sad eyes of more than a few victims.

If you look around Oakland you see psychic shops all over the place, on Grand and Piedmont avenues, down on Frutivale avenue, a new one on Park Boulevard, etc. It would be a cheap shot to suggest that all these enterprises have criminal intent but I would rather see other businesses flourish around town. Let’s look out for each other.