By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Goldstein seems impervious to their unease, but a few minutes later, he signs their paychecks. The officers collect for a job they won't do, leaving before anything has really begun. Goldstein explains that this situation might go beyond the scope of what police officers are permitted to do. After all, this ain't no off-duty babysitting gig at a local mall.
He smirks. "Did I tell you this was one not to be missed? They got scared of the situation. What in the hell does that tell you? What kind of crazy fucks are we?"
Crazy. That's one word to describe Cheaters. Sneaky is another. Devious, yet another. Unscrupulous? Perhaps. Illegal? Only a lawsuit will determine that for sure, but the show definitely flirts with some sticky issues.
Along with ambushing unsuspecting private citizens with allegations of adultery, the show hires detectives to suss out evidence. These private investigators collect not only surveillance tape, but also audio of the suspects lying to their mates. On an episode of Cheaters already in the can, the stakeout revealed some too-hot-for-TV hanky-panky on a living-room couch. But most of the Cheaters footage is akin to the material taken of Margie's security-guard husband. He may be kissing another woman when he's supposed to be at work, but the evidence of down-and-dirty adultery is circumstantial at best.
Broadcasting it all on television just begs charges of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation of character, libel, and, of course, invasion of privacy. Goldstein, of course, does not see it this way.
"We do not invade anybody's privacy," he insists. "You don't have a privacy expectation when you go out in public. All our recording is done in public."
What about placing a bug on a phone?
Goldstein sticks out his tongue as though a different kind of bug just flew into his mouth. "It's not a bug...don't use the 'bug' word." He explains that in Texas, one party can record another party without consent. "If I own a home...then I can rig all the cameras I want in my own dwelling. And I can even wiretap my own home."
He grimaces. "Wait, wait." He bangs his hand down on the table and grins. "It's not 'wiretap.' Don't use that word either."
The Cheaters team doesn't call Goldstein "J. Edgar" for nothing.
Then again, there's one easy way to make sure nobody sues: Goldstein gets his subjects to sign releases, giving him their OK to appear on TV. And how does he do that? Easy. He pays them. He even admitted as much on Leeza Gibbons' syndicated show. "I control the checkbook," he told the host, "and I'll do what it takes to make the program."
Not that the money makes much difference to some of those who have been put under Cheaters' microscope.
Hampton -- just Hampton, no last names please -- appears in the Cheaters footage that has made the rounds, having been aired on NBC's Later Today and other news-magazine programs. Hampton, you see, caught his girlfriend Elena with another woman.
He doesn't like to talk about the money, because he thinks it will make people assume the scenario was faked. He says he doesn't want people to think his tears and pain and confusion were anything but absolutely real.
"That was one of the worst experiences of my life, period," Hampton says. "A camera crew being there didn't help, but it didn't change what happened or what I was going through. And money -- money didn't come in until afterward. And if I knew then what I know now, I'd say, 'No, no thanks. Not for any amount of money.' The decision screwed my chances of ever getting Elena back. It screwed up my life."
Hampton says Goldstein told him the incident would be broadcast regardless of whether he signed a permission slip. According to Hampton, Goldstein told him he had no legal recourse against Cheaters -- and Hampton believed him.
"I'm not sure whether he's a conniving son of a bitch or not," Hampton says. "But I'm not very intelligent when it comes to the legal field, and neither is Elena. So the most I'm going to do is think, 'Oh, you fucking cocksucker.'"
But Hampton is, in fact, somewhat protective of the Cheaters gang, even though he can't really explain why. This, even though Goldstein told Hampton he wouldn't air the footage if that's what Hampton wanted, but Hampton would be responsible for wasting $20,000 worth of crew and equipment and time.
"It was like, you can only twist somebody's arm so much before it breaks," Hampton says. "And rather than breaking my arm, I thought, 'Fuck it, it's already done. And the relationship is over. There's nothing I can do. So why not?'"
Goldstein, sitting at his desk, says he didn't pay Hampton anything for his appearance on the show. Hampton was the client who sought Cheaters' services out. All clients sign waivers before production of their case ever begins. But Goldstein readily admits that some money was exchanged for some promotional work on behalf of Cheaters -- meaning, Goldstein has paid Hampton to appear on shows such as Leeza and do interviews with other media. "It's hard to ask these people to give you their time for free to help us sell the show," Goldstein insists.