ITEM PHOTO BY JIM WILSON
Saugus School Committee member Jeannie Meredith doubles as a private investigator.
By BRIDGET TURCOTTE
SAUGUS — By day she’s a school committee member fighting for the children. By night, she’s private investigator Jeannie Meredith, fighting for just about everyone else.
“My day is always unpredictable but I thoroughly enjoy helping people,” said Meredith.
Six years ago Meredith partnered with Paul Leuci, a retired police officer, and formed a private investigation agency called Moonlight Investigations. She’s helped reunite estranged children and parents, shed light on assets hidden by spouses during divorce, proven infidelity, and provided answers to the questions that people really didn’t want to ask.
But Meredith got her start in the industry more than 19 years ago when a personal situation required her to hire a PI. She found a Boston-based company that she believed to be reputable and provided a list of what she would need. Weeks after paying for the service up front, she was given a folder that lacked all information she had requested.
“There was nothing I could do about it,” she said. “I was so upset, I said I would do my own investigation. And I did.”
Meredith uncovered all information she needed to win her case. She went on to help friends and strangers in similar positions for the next 13 years. Finally, a judicial clerk in probate court asked her why she didn’t consider getting paid for her work and encouraged her to pursue a career as a private investigator. The idea supported what her mother had been telling her for years.
She worked under Leuci for three years until she was eligible to apply for her own license with the Massachusetts State Police.
The job has brought her satisfaction in helping others and kept excitement in her day-to-day life. Some days she spends on a stakeout in a crowded parking lot, other days she blends in with the flow of a residential neighborhood.
Over the years, she has picked up many tricks of the trade. She uses a zoom lens on a camera as binoculars, a dashboard camera angled the right way in her car while she pretends to read the newspaper, and attaches a GPS tracker to the undercarriage of her subjects’ cars to keep track of every move.
She takes safety precautions with a license to carry, by always being aware of her surroundings, and keeping mace on her at all times. She admits that the job can, at times, be frightening.
“When people think they’re being followed, they are typically looking at the men,” she said. “A woman has so many looks she can do — I can dress like a businesswoman; a soccer mom; a dog walker; a biker chick, which I prefer not to dress as.”
Business typically picks up from November through January. The holidays make people get more suspicious of one another and brings out strange behavior, Meredith said.
“The majority of people who think their spouse is cheating, in my experience, are wrong,” said Meredith. “Their friends will tell them, ‘if you think they’re cheating, they are.’ In my experience, that’s not true. But they’re usually hiding something else.”
She has tailed a man through Boston, whose wife suspected infidelity, and found he was walking around the fruit market during work hours to hide that he had lost his job. Another suspected cheater was buying drugs.
Meredith values the joy she gets from helping others and has a soft spot for domestic cases. But her favorite outcomes involve reuniting long-lost family members.
“A dad hired me when his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter disappeared with her mother,” said Meredith. “Really, it was kidnapping, but nobody was treating it as if it was.”
The fearful father was reaching out to every law enforcement agency he could think of but wasn’t getting the help he needed. Meredith discovered the woman claimed she was in a domestic abuse situation and was placed into protective custody. When officials heard the abuse claims, they stopped pursuing the case.
“It was eye opening to me the way a woman could claim abuse and, no questions asked, take her child away from the father,” said Meredith. “There was not one court record, not one police report to substantiate this. This little girl was kept from her family, from her cousins and aunts and uncles for a year and a half.”
With Meredith’s help, the dad and daughter were reunited. The father chose not to press charges and shares custody with the child’s mother.
“The dad was so good — all he wanted was his daughter back,” Meredith said. “That was the best story ever for me. That’s why I do it.”
Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte