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Cracking cases for L.A.'s Iranian community

An Iranian man parks his car in a guest spot behind his apartment. He heads inside the building and comes back out about an hour later to walk the dog.

Across the street, parked in a rental car, private investigator Sam Nassrouie tucks away his surveillance gear — a camera pen and a hidden tape recorder that looks like an MP3 player — and retrieves his cellphone.

"Your husband doesn't seem to be cheating on you," Nassrouie reassures his client, an Iranian woman, over the phone. "I followed him — he went straight home from work and only left to walk your dog."

The client, confused, tells the PI: "But … we don't have a dog."

Moments later, Nassrouie hears loud profanities in Farsi coming from the apartment building. His client had figured it out: Her husband was cheating on her — with their neighbor. Nassrouie had spotted him walking the neighbor's dog.

With jobs as varied as solving infidelity cases and conducting background checks, Nassrouie, 62, has spent 15 years as the go-to private investigator for L.A.'s Iranian community.

From Tehran to L.A.

As a child, Nassrouie said his parents would call him fozool, or overly curious. Even at Persian parties, called mehmoonies, Nassrouie said he was always "snooping."

"I always saw things people didn't notice," he said. "I would ask, 'Why is this here?'"

He also tuned into the radio show "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar," about the adventures of a freelance insurance investigator.

"In Iran, the idea of a private investigator didn't really exist," he said. "But I was drawn to it because it seemed challenging and rewarding."

After graduating from high school in Tehran, Nassrouie hoped to become a pilot or a homicide detective.

Instead, he served several years in the Iranian military before moving to New York to live with his brother.

He eventually moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, working at an auto repossessing company while taking criminology classes.

While taking classes, he sought real-life experience, and spent hours shadowing other investigators until he got his own license to practice in 1999.

Job lacks glamour

Nassrouie said he loves being an investigator, but it's nothing like what people see on-screen.

There are no trench coats or dark sunglasses. And unlike James Bond, who chases suspects while driving flashy sports cars, Nassrouie picks vehicles to "blend in."

Sometimes he ditches wheels and walks. Other times, he hops on a motorcycle and follows subjects 40 or 50 miles to their final destination.

And stakeouts?

"It can get boring," he said. "Imagine sitting for four or five hours in a car waiting for your subject but he or she never shows up."

But for some members of L.A.'s Iranian community, Nassrouie has become the closest thing to Agent 007 when it comes to solving their day-to-day worries.

"The Persian community likes to have Persian people to help them — most clients come to me off of referrals," said Nassrouie, who frequently advertises on Iranian websites. "In the beginning I wanted to be just a regular PI but in California, especially the Los Angeles area, you see a large Persian community and I thought this would be a good opportunity to serve their needs."

Nassrouie said about half of his 20 or so cases a year involve infidelity.

"It's not my favorite kind of investigation," he said. "But it pays the bills."

Albert Soufer, an 82-year-old Iranian man who lives in Westwood and owns a rental car business, has hired Nassrouie several times in the last 10 years.

"One time, a few years ago, a man owed me money for Rent-a-Car and we couldn't track him down," Soufer said. "Sam found him and got him to pay us.... All the jobs he has done for me have been successful."

Michael, another former client who asked to be identified only by his first name for privacy reasons, said Nassrouie's fluency in Farsi and English is beneficial.

"There's a need for investigators to talk to witnesses in their mother tongue and understand them," he said. "Sam is fluent in Farsi and English and understands Iranian culture. He's able to be a good translator and investigator."

A mentor and cynic

Over the years, Nassrouie has also helped mentor several aspiring private investigators, including Daniel Soto, a 28-year-old police academy graduate who was in need of a job when he and his wife moved to West L.A. about two years ago.

"Sam was very kind and very generous in letting me start with him and train with him," Soto said. "He didn't have an advertisement out for hiring.… He was just willing to help me learn, which I was grateful for."

Soto has helped Nassrouie prepare for cases and also accompanied him on stakeouts. "He really stresses being alert and keeping track of your surroundings," Soto said. "And to always expect the unexpected."

When the investigation is complete, Nassrouie presents surveillance footage or written reports to his clients. It can be the worst part of his job.

"I unfortunately have to sometimes confirm their gut feelings," he said.

After years of catching cheating spouses and conducting background checks, Nassrouie said the job has changed him.

"I've become very cynical — I don't trust anyone," he said. "After doing this awhile, you see things that really get to you. I don't believe in love stories, and friends and family tell me I'm suspicious."

Despite the challenges, Nassrouie said he can't envision himself doing anything else.

"This is what I love," he said.

Case of the worried mom

An Iranian mother calls Nassrouie. She's worried about her son.

"Can you find out if he has a girlfriend?"

She has a feeling her son, attending college out of state, is secretly dating someone.

Nassrouie did his surveillance and discovered her son was indeed in a relationship — with his roommate, a male.

Nassrouie breaks the news to the mother.

Another case closed.

saba.hamedy@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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