Feds finish case against Pellicano
With the prosecution’s wiretapping and racketeering case against Anthony Pellicano and his four co-defendants having wrapped Thursday, it’s time to look at what did and didn’t happen during the government’s case.
Much of the hype surrounding the years-long grand jury investigation revolved around speculation that a large swath of the Hollywood power structure, especially Brad Grey, Michael Ovitz and Bert Fields, would be indicted. That, of course, didn’t happen, although there have been some high-profile casualties, such as the guilty plea from director John McTiernan.
So, the case that came to trial was not the case Hollywood was salivating over. As for the case the government did put on, it looks like a slam-dunk, at least against Pellicano.
Unique in the annals of celebrity trials, Pellicano is representing himself. On cross-examination, he seemed determined to assure former clients like Grey that he will take their secrets to his grave.
As for his victims, he gave Linda Doucett, Garry Shandling’s former girlfriend, the chance to tell him that he was the only bad man she knew and Anita Busch the opportunity to tell the jury that he ruined her life. Pellicano would have been better off declining to cross-examine the witnesses.
How the defense will conduct its case is the next big mystery. U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer already has raised the specter of Pellicano running back and forth between the witness box and the podium, acting as a witness and his own attorney.
Despite the lack of bombshells at trial, the government abundantly exposed the seamy underbelly of a Hollywood where money buys illegal access, petty vendettas are pursued and litigation is a battle where no weapon is off-limits. Long-forgotten scandals like the Heidi Fleiss mess sprang back to life.
The low point in the sleaze parade was investor Adam Sender’s testimony that Pellicano offered to kill Aaron Russo for him. Sender had planned to launch his Hollywood career by investing $1 million with producer Russo (who has since died). The movie company never happened, and Sender found his way to Fields, who in turn recommended Pellicano, who, he said, used unorthodox methods but attained spectacular results.
The sordid tale of billionaire Alec Gores unexpectedly dragged famed female litigator Patty Glaser into the Pellicano orbit. Gores testified that Glaser recommended Pellicano to do a background check on an employee, which he never did. Instead, he hired Pellicano to spy on his wife and brother, who were having an affair. Glaser, who is representing her indicted partner Terry Christensen, has long maintained that she didn’t recommend Pellicano.
Beyond the overall slime factor, the most notable features and omissions of the government’s case included:
- The kid-glove treatment of Hollywood honchos and celebrities. Once the government decided that Pellicano was its only star defendant, it had no reason to undercut the credibility of its own witnesses such as Grey and comedian Chris Rock.
In his brief, direct testimony, Grey laid the handling of his two lawsuits completely at the feet of his attorney Fields and emerged unscathed. Similarly, in calling Rock to testify about his use of Pellicano when model Monika Zsibrita threatened him with a paternity claim, the government carefully avoided playing the raunchy taped telephone conversation between Rock and Pellicano.
Rock also testified that his attorney referred him to Pellicano. While Ovitz testified that he personally hired Pellicano to investigate embarrassing media leaks, he proclaimed ignorance of Pellicano’s alleged illegal tactics.
As for why Grey and Ovitz were not indicted, the answer is simple, says Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. “The prosecution didn’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that his clients knew what Pellicano was up to and that they wanted him to use those illegal techniques. It doesn’t mean that to this day they don’t have their suspicions; it just means they didn’t have the proof.”
The central role of Bert Fields remains unexamined. Two months of testimony made it clear that mega-attorney Fields was Pellicano’s most valuable client. Fields or his firm were involved in a staggering number of matters in which Pellicano used illegal snooping. They included producer Andrew Stevens’ never-filed suit against attorney John LaViolette; a case filed by heiress Taylor Thompson against a former nanny; and finally, money manager Ken Starr’s suit against Sylvester Stallone.
Prosecutors told the court March 25 that they expected Fields to assert his Fifth Amendment rights if he were called, and they argued it was inappropriate because the statute of limitations has expired.
Fields instantly issued a statement that he had nothing to hide and would answer questions if called, but he was never called.
What’s going on? Levenson theorizes that John Keker, Fields’ esteemed criminal attorney from whom he parted ways, probably advised him to plead. Another review of the matter indicated that since he faced little legal risk and was taking an enormous hit in the media, Fields decided to change course. As for the prosecution, Levenson said, they probably got nervous about putting on a witness they didn’t control and decided not to take the risk.
But on Thursday, Chad Hummel, defense attorney for LAPD Sgt. Mark Arneson, said he may call Fields to the stand as early as today.
- The threats to reporter Busch were finally explained. As everyone in the civilized world now knows, Pellicano’s enterprise unraveled when he arranged a series of threats to Busch in 2002. The assumption was that Pellicano was hired to scare her off a story she was working on about Steven Seagal’s alleged mob connections, although Seagal has long since been exonerated.
Despite attempts on cross-examination to resurrect that story, Busch on the stand restated her assertion that Pellicano harassed her after he was hired by Ovitz to find the sources of the negative stories she and Bernard Weinraub wrote about AMG, his failing management company.
Ovitz testified that his real interest was in the alleged sources of the stories, Ron Meyer, his former CAA partner, and longtime nemesis David Geffen.
Interestingly, the most convincing explanation for the source of the leaks came in a 2004 arbitration between Ovitz and Cathy Schulman, the former president of Ovitz’s Artists Production Group, in which the arbitrator concluded that Schulman was the source of negative articles about APG. That decision was later overturned for unrelated reasons.
Schulman continues to deny that she leaked this information to the media.