A Private Eyeful

Vito Colucci Jr.'s Stamford office is littered with snapshots of celebrities.

On his desk is a framed picture of him and convicted murderer Michael Skakel. On his entertainment unit lies a shot of him and boxer Evander Holyfield. And then there's the photo of him linking arms with singer Donna Summer. And another of him and boxing promoter Don King at a birthday party for television news anchor Rita Cosby.

So this is the glamorous life of a private eye — or so it might seem.

Colucci, a former Stamford police detective, is one of the most famous private investigators in the country.

He worked the Skakel case, in which he produced video that suggested another boy had killed Martha Moxley in Greenwich. He worked for the defense of former NBA basketball player Jayson Williams, who was accused of shooting a limousine driver. He helped build a defense for Nancy Kissel of Greenwich, convicted of sedating her husband and bludgeoning him to death in Hong Kong.

His company, Colucci Investigations, employs five investigators who are constantly working on things like secret cameras and computer spyware.

And yet, beneath the celebrities and fame, Colucci insists that he is still just a man with a desk and a telephone. His business, while never boring, isn't exactly the Dick Tracy stuff you see on television, he said.

"I haven't had a car chase in years," he said, "and I don't have a blond on each arm."

What he and his investigators do have are stacks of case files to read through, interviews with witnesses to conduct and a constant stream of meetings with lawyers and clients.

"A lot of the job is reading papers, police reports, cases," he said. "A PI who works every day is going to be doing a lot of tedious work."

Colucci's team is currently reading through piles of paperwork relating to Travis the chimpanzee. His company has been hired by the family of Stamford resident Charla Nash, who was mauled and blinded by her best friend's pet chimp.

Colucci was hired to investigate Travis' violent history, which reportedly included a couple of biting incidents.

"We're getting a lot of good stuff," he said.

Colucci's private eye business wasn't always so high-profile.

For the first decade, Colucci Investigations lived off what Colucci referred to as "the hometown cases": suspicious spouses, insurance fraud and pre-employment background checks.

Then, in 2002, Colucci got his first big break. He was hired by Skakel's defense team to investigate leads on other suspects in the Moxley murder and produced a videotaped interview during which a former friend of Skakel's said another teenage boy had been obsessed with Moxley and wanted to "go caveman" on her.

Skakel, a cousin of the Kennedy family by marriage, had been convicted of killing 15-year-old Martha with a golf club outside her Greenwich home on Oct. 30, 1975.

Colucci's videotaped interview got enough media coverage to land him a series of high-profile clients.

Between the Skakel and Kissel cases, Colucci estimated that he's made more than 450 television and radio show appearances — six in just the last month. Earlier this week, he recorded a segment about the Kissel case with the CBS show "48 Hours."

As the country struggled through a recession in 2008, Colucci celebrated his company's most profitable year. If anything, he said, the recession increased his caseload.

"People are still going to get divorced. Crimes are still going to be committed," he said, "and they're still going to need PIs to investigate."