Wiretapped conversations detailed
In testimony Friday, a former employee of Anthony Pellicano described a thriving criminal enterprise in which code names like “Cruise Missile Omerta” were used for files and in which she transcribed hundreds of wiretapped conversations and regularly arranged for Pellicano’s accomplices to run illegal background checks and wiretaps.
Testifying under a grant of immunity, the witness with the unlikely but real name of Tarita Virtue told the jury she worked as Pellicano’s assistant between 2000 and 2002. Her first task was to enter telephone numbers and other faxed information into a database. Once Pellicano came to trust her — two weeks into the job — her duties expanded to include listening to wiretaps and transcribing the conversations.
A vivacious and very cooperative Virtue explained that Pellicano would bring an external hard drive into her office and she would attach it to her computer via a FireWire connection to listen to the wiretaps. Using Pellicano’s Telesleuth program, she could convert touchtone sounds into digits, picking up credit card and bank account information, for example. When asked by assistant U.S. attorney Dan Saunders whether Pellicano specifically asked her to record such information, she responded, “No. I just did it because I’m really thorough.”
Virtue is a witness in the federal racketeering and wiretapping trial of Pellicano and his four co-defendants. In a 2002 raid of Pellicano’s Hollywood offices, FBI agents discovered thousands of recordings of illegally wiretapped telephone conversations. Pellicano was frequently hired as a private investigator by attorneys in connection with litigation or other matters.
Virtue said Pellicano had password protection on all his files, and his personal password was Omerta, the Sicilian word for a code of silence. Among the “Omerta” documents was a list of matters including “Sissy — Cruise Missile Omerta,” “LaViolette Omerta,” “Vincent ‘Bo’ Zenga Omerta” and “Lisa Bonder Omerta.”
Virtue said she was familiar with the Zenga matter and opined that “Cruise Missile” referred to Tom Cruise before Saunders told her not to speculate.
Cruise’s attorney employed Pellicano during Cruise’s divorce from Nicole Kidman. John LaViolette, a partner at well-known entertainment boutique Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette & Feldman, was wiretapped in connection with the Franchise-Intertainment litigation, apparently at the direction of Franchise chief operating officer Andrew Stevens. Zenga sued Brad Grey over disputed profits on “Scary Movie,” and Grey’s attorney Bert Fields employed Pellicano. Lisa Bonder was involved in a child-support matter with Kirk Kerkorian, and Pellicano was employed by Kerkorian’s attorney, Terry Christensen.
Virtue also described the workings of the “war room,” a locked room where intercepted conversations could be listened to in real time. She said Pellicano could handle seven real-time intercepts on site at once. She noted that all the onsite intercepts were for 310 area codes; to wiretap other area codes, they needed to rent space and install a computer.
Not only the war room but all other rooms at the Pellicano Investigative Agency were locked with punch codes. Pellicano told her the reason was that if the FBI ever raided them, they couldn’t go into those rooms, to which Virtue testified she said, “Oh, cool.”
Virtue also identified Pellicano’s main accomplices, the other defendants in the courtroom. She testified that Kevin Kachikian was the computer guy who fixed the glitches in Telesleuth; Rayford Earl Turner, the SBC and Pac Bell employee, was the field guy who got the telephone numbers for the wiretaps; and LAPD officer Mark Arneson ran illegal background checks. Virtue said she spoke to Arneson and Turner several times a week.
The remainder of the witnesses Friday gave testimony to enable the government to get its documents into evidence. Virtue will continue testifying when court resumes Tuesday.