Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/1074882

Contents of this Issue


Page 22 of 111

20 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 I meet Steve Thomas in his 10th-floor office downtown. It's nearly empty, but for a desk and unused corkboard. "I'm never here," he explains. "I think this is my sixth time in 10 years." After all, work for him is out there, crouched behind dark-tinted car windows or camouflaged at a crowded bar, iPhone out, ready to capture the sin that will write the obit for a couple once in love. Thomas sits in front of two bright windows, and the backlighting blasts my pupils, plunging his face into a shadowy darkness. He's a few feet away but near-anonymous, like the private inves- tigator he is. He starts by telling me we're still in the "silly season." Everyone's in love around the holidays and into the new year. The infidelity work slows, like construction. "After Valentine's Day, after the chocolates are given out and roses wilt, the weather breaks," Thomas says. "People wear less clothing and get out more. This is when you see an uptick in these kinds of cases." His voice is equal parts nasal and gristle. When he leans forward, a face revealed: salt-and-pepper beard, slicked dark hair, pale blue eyes. Here is the sleuth who, for almost 30 years, has professionally peeked into private lives. His agency? Kentucky Digging for Dirt A private gumshoe comes (kinda) clean. SHIFT Special Investigative Unit. When I ask how he got into this work, he says, "I was raised by a motorcycle gang." And so it was that this babe in diapers, lulled on the back of a Harley, wet cigs in a beer can for a rattle, grew to become a bounty hunter in Indiana to help pay for college — something like that. "I had a natural talent for putting myself in the shoes of people who had skipped bail," Thomas says. Here's how he tells it: His skill caught the attention of a legendary private investigator in Louisville. The CliffsNotes version is that Thomas tracked down a super-private number for the legend, and one day the legend screeched to a stop in a canary yellow Corvette and a $3,000 suit. Impressed by Thomas' detective work, the legend said, "You're the S.O.B who called my house. You gonna tell me how you did it?" He then handed Thomas a business card and hired him on the spot. Thomas says another local P.I. legend gifted him the shiny silver badge he wears on his hip that looks identical to a police badge. "The only private investigator badge in the state," he says. Infidelity cases in '91, when he started as a P.I., were "pretty cut and dry," Thomas says. Women — accounting for 75 percent of his clients — would itch with suspicion. Suddenly, her man was working out, buying new clothes, going to Bible study or fishing. Thomas would be hired. Then, he'd photograph the jerk coming out of a motel. Boom! Caught. Now, for evidence, he mines dating apps and hook-up sites and social media galore, not to mention easy-to-scroll-through cell phone logs. (The smart cheaters buy burner phones.) Thomas says his infidelity clients stretch across class and race, and include celeb- rities and politicians. He dangles catnip, mentioning a prominent Louisville poli- tician he once investigated. Pray tell? No comment. An affair? "I established video documentation." An infidelity case can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,500, depending on how many hours Thomas and his four other investigators tally. The bulk of his work is actually workman's comp and insur- ance fraud. And last year, according to the Courier-Journal, the University of Louisville hired Thomas to investigate the recently fired athletic director Tom Jurich. Infidelity and other domestic-type cases only make up about 20 percent of his workload. The tools of his trade: cars with "limo tint," the darkest window tint around (illegal, but it's a "fine not a crime"); voice-activated recorders (legal, as long as the couple is married and the car or room that the recording device is in is shared property); iPhones (best used in crowds because everyone has one out); and old-fashioned, slumped-in-the-car- seat surveillance with handheld camcord- ers, like the kind families once used to archive happy memories. If all of this reminds you of the popular TV show Cheaters, Thomas says, "No. Way different. They forget the human element. It's like an onion, and when you peel it all away you have people's hearts and souls." Cheaters doesn't show the fallout, he says, like STDs and intimate injuries sustained during kinky sex. I too will keep it polite and censor his war sto- ries. Thomas does say his clients aren't as explosive as those on Cheaters — less hair pulling and screeching, more strate- gy, like waiting to reveal the evidence that Illustration by Shae Goodlett

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