TOP PI In The Nation
Sterling man says real-life work not like TV
By Mary Anne Magiera TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Friday, August 8, 2003
WEST BOYLSTON- John M. Lajoie readily admits to being fair-minded, focused and into details - reams of details, as in insurance forms, witness statements and court records.
He credits those attributes for the success of his business of more than 15 years - Lajoie Investigations on West Boylston Street.
However, it is Mr. Lajoie's almost obsessive concern about the public's image of his profession that has earned him national recognition.
The Sterling resident is currently "Investigator of the Year," an honor given him by the Austin, Texas-based National Association of Investigative Specialists.
"We have watched John grow to become an excellent investigator and develop a reputable business. He has given a lot back to the profession," said Ralph D. Thomas, founder and executive director of NAIS.
The award is not necessarily given annually by the 2,500-member organization, Mr. Thomas said, but rather, "only when we think someone deserves it."
Mr. Thomas cited Mr. Lajoie's multiple professional certifications and his work in several national and international professional organizations, as well as his reputation as an author and public speaker as key reasons for his selection. Mr. Thomas noted that Mr. Lajoie runs what has become known as the "super conference" for investigative professionals. A biennial event, the conference will be held in October at Atlantic City and includes 18 different organizations.
"If you look at our industry, there are not that many people who give of their time and money to try to improve our image. Or, who spend time educating and mentoring those coming into the profession," said Julius "Buddy" Bombet, a former association official who recommended Mr. Lajoie for the award.
"It's a nonpaying, thankless job," Mr. Bombet added. An investigator for 37 years, Mr. Bombet is president of his own firm, which is based in Baton Rouge, La.
It has been an uphill struggle to buff up the image of the private investigator, according to Mr. Lajoie.
"The spying stuff is something Hollywood made up," Mr. Lajoie said. "There are no car chases; no blondes sitting beside me. I'm not sitting here throwing darts at a dart board, smoking a cigar. That's TV stuff. It's complete crap."
In real life, according to Mr. Lajoie, "investigators help people solve their problems.
" The work of a truly professional investigator is mostly boring, according to Mr. Lajoie, but somebody has to do it.
"I love to pore over documents and find the inconsistencies. Then I interview
people and get the facts of the case," he said. "I put myself on the other side
of the coin so I can develop a case."
People skills are critical to success, according to Mr. Lajoie.
"You've got to be able to talk to people, not talk down to them; and, you've got to be able to listen," he said.
Mr. Lajoie was a claims adjuster for an insurance company in the early 1980s when he first became fascinated with the investigative aspects of cases. Eventually, his path crossed with that of Larry O'Connor, whom he described as a legendary Worcester area criminal defense lawyer. He said he began working with Mr. O'Connor, who taught him how to develop theories of defense.
"I saw a huge potential for a Worcester-based investigative services business. I took a huge risk; I gave up a well-paying job. But, it has worked out well for me,"
Mr. Lajoie said. With a staff of 10, Lajoie Investigations provides a variety of investigative services, but Mr. Lajoie said he reserves the most difficult for himself - capital felony cases and the criminal defense side in death and catastrophic illness cases.
His best known case involved the 1999 shooting of an off-duty Holyoke police officer. Working with criminal defense lawyer Peter L. Ettenberg, Mr. Lajoie said he developed the self-defense theory for the shooter who, he said, fired at an unmarked car that was pursuing him. Eventually, his client, Eddie Morales, was found guilty. But, the case, he said, earned him international attention.
Success in a more recent case probably helped win the Investigator of the Year award, Mr. Lajoie said.
This year, he earned a directed verdict of not guilty for his client who was charged with murder. During a review of the death certificate of the victim, Mr. Lajoie noted that the cause of death was listed as "undetermined," he said. There was no autopsy in the case.
"I can work within the letter of the law and get done what I need to get done," Mr. Lajoie said. "I love what I do. You have to, because people's lives are depending upon the work that I do."