HartfordCourant: Rafael Zeligzon acknowledges that it's unusual for someone to look underneath a public restroom sink.
But Zeligzon, 57, known to his customers as "The Drain Medic," does it for a living, spending his days unclogging sewers and drains throughout Greater Hartford.
After eating a greasy chili dog for lunch on July 27, Zeligzon visited the men's room to wash his hands during a stop at the Starbucks on Albany Avenue in West Hartford. When he couldn't get any hot water, he decided to take matters into his own hands and adjust a valve or two. Little did he know the act would expose a voyeurism scandal that would embarrass four businesses, result in the arrest of a Hartford man and disrupt his own business.
"I reach down without looking and I feel something strange in my hand and I go, 'Hmmmm, what is it?'" Zeligzon said during an interview Thursday. "So then I look and I go, 'Uh oh. It's a camera with a little memory card.'"
The sound-activated camera — about the size of a cellphone — was attached to a pipe with black duct tape. The lens was aimed at the toilet. "I will never forget, I was fuming," Zeligzon said. "I was outraged."
At first he thought about putting it back. But then he feared the voyeur would come back to get it. So he decided to tell the Starbucks employees. He said they told him they were too busy to talk to him.
Afraid the camera would just be tossed, he decided to take it home to East Hartford, even though an attorney friend had told him to turn it into police right away.
"Who do you trust?" he asked. "What if you hand it over to somebody and it's gone?"
Zeligzon downloaded the contents of the camera on his computer, fearing he — a frequent Starbucks customer — would see his own private parts on the video. There were 18 files in the camera with good-quality sound, Zeligzon said. The images showed men using the bathroom, their genitals, buttocks and, in some cases, their faces visible.
" I realized right away it was criminal, it was voyeurism," Zeligzon said. He called police and a dispatcher told him to bring in the camera. He told them he would stop in the next day.
Zeligzon said he was unable to discern whether his bathroom visits were on the video.
"I suspect," he said. "Might be."
The next morning, Zeligzon went to Starbucks and told employees they needed to call police. An employee took the camera from Zeligzon and tucked it into a Ziploc plastic bag. He said he felt it was the responsibility of Starbucks to report the crime.
"I'm not supposed to report the crime. It wasn't my place where it happened."
Later that day, police talked to Zeligzon, pressing him about why he took the camera home instead of calling police right away. He said he told police he was curious and wondered if he was on the video. And he worried what would happen to the video if he just left it with the manager.
Investigators traced the camera to Hartford resident Paul Deveau, 51, of 100 Whitney St. On Thursday, Deveau was arraigned in Superior Court in Hartford on 12 counts of voyeurism. A judge continued his case to Sept. 12. He is free on $100,000 bail.
For their investigation, detectives took Zeligzon's laptop and desk computer — crucial equipment he said he needs to keep his sewer and drain unclogging business going.
In recent letter to Starbucks, Zeligzon asked Starbucks for some help in the meantime.
"It is a great financial hardship to be deprived of my computer for an indefinite period of time," he wrote. "In light of my good deed which prevented further violations of privacy of your customers, I am requesting that you provide me with a replacement laptop."
Zeligzon said he has not received a response.
“Here is a guy that does a good deed and Starbucks looks at me like it's nothing. Not even a phone call. It hurts," he said.
Zeligzon's lawyer, Gerald S. Sack of West Hartford, questions whether Starbucks took the necessary precautions to keep his client and other customers safe, in light of similar incidents in Florida and California in which secret cameras were found in Starbucks bathrooms.
"My question is why isn't Starbucks, with $10 billion in revenue, taking the very simple steps of having an employee or manager check their bathroom given that there are a number of these incidents that have occurred before this on a nationwide basis with mass voyeurism with cameras in their bathrooms?" Sack said.
Stacey Krum, spokeswoman for Starbucks, based in Seattle, Wash., said "standard operations" at all Starbucks include regular sweeps for hidden cameras in all areas of the store.
"It's something we do on a regular basis," Krum said. "Not everything is going to be identified, but we have certainly given very direct guidance to our store partners and we are taking the right steps making sure all of our stores are safe."
Krum said Starbucks officials are "very pleased" with how the West Hartford Starbucks responded to the camera incident by reaching out quickly to police.
"We are cooperating in any way we can," she said.
And as for Zeligzon's computers, Krum said they are considered evidence in the case. "That is something he needs to work out with the West Hartford police," Krum said.
Zeligzon said that, in the meantime, he will continue to patronize Starbucks, a place he said he frequented for coffee with his laptop in hand to fill out business invoices and send e-mails.
"I had a little dream that Starbucks would say, 'Sir, we really appreciate it,'" he said. "Give me a lifetime coffee pass for me and my boys and my girl and a couple of friends."