Tarita Virtue is cross-examined by former boss

It was another long day for Tarita Virtue, the government’s key witness against Anthony Pellicano, with emotions running especially high as she faced off against her former boss during a heated cross-examination Wednesday.

Pellicano is representing himself during the trial in which he and four other co-defendants are charged with illegal wiretapping and racketeering.

Virtue teared up as she recalled a relationship with Pellicano in which he treated her “like a daughter.”

However, any trust in her boss deteriorated over time as Virtue said she experienced his volatile temper, a sudden firing for having asked a question, and his obsession with keeping things safe in the office during her two-year stint at the company.

Virtue is key to the prosecution because while serving as VP and office manager at his firm, she listened to thousands of hours of phone calls that were allegedly illegally obtained by Pellicano.

She also fingered co-defendants for their respected roles: Rayford Earl Turner, a former SBC and Pac Bell employee, as the “phone guy,” who got telephone numbers for wiretaps; LAPD officer Mark Arneson, who ran illegal background checks; and Kevin Kachikian as the “software genius” who created the Telesleuth program Pellicano used for wiretapping.

Virtue is testifying under immunity about transcripts and summaries she prepared while working for Pellicano.

A former post-production staffer at Paramount Pictures, Virtue said she was referred to Pellicano’s firm by a temp agency to work there as a junior detective and “as an understudy of Pellicano.” She was told she’d take over the company if he retired. “It seemed more challenging” than a job she’d been offered as a talent agency trainee.

During Wednesday’s testimony, Virtue said she listened to wiretapped calls from Erin Finn, Cassandra Cohen, Aaron Russo and Bo Zenga but had trouble recalling specific clients that Pellicano worked for.

She described incoming and outgoing phone logs, which Pellicano was adamant shouldn’t include certain names, and a reception area where closed-circuit cameras recorded visitors. Within two weeks on the job, Virtue said, she learned that wiretapping was going on; six months later, she said, she found out how it was conducted.

She also jotted down the license plates of cars outside of Tom Cruise’s house and served a subpoena to Monica Zsibrita in a case involving Chris Rock while on the job.

After Virtue left Pellicano’s employment on amicable terms in 2002, she sent several emails to him, which he attempted to use as evidence. She also sent him a fax ending with the line “All my love, honor and friendship.”

Virtue said she sent those communications because she wanted Pellicano to believe she was on his side. “I wanted you to think I’d always be loyal because I feared for my safety,” she said, referring to two other former employees who feared Pellicano. She wanted to disappear and not be anywhere near him.

Virtue said she especially feared how Pellicano might react after she testified for the grand jury in 2003.

“When he sees this, I’m dead,” she said she told lawyers and the FBI. “I was shattered. I was so scared of your retaliation,” she told Pellicano during his cross-examination. “It was the last thing I wanted you to know.”

But Pellicano did find out. And shortly afterward, Virtue said he called her parents’ house in Florida and threatened her life.

“I took that very seriously,” she said.

When Pellicano asked Virtue if she thought he would “threaten to kill” his loyal “daughter,” she quickly shot back that he did so when he called her parents.

During his cross-examination, Pellicano brought up an interview Virtue gave to a reporter during which she’s quoted as saying that she hoped Pellicano would “have a stroke and die in prison.”

When Pellicano asked, “Did you wish me dead?,” Virtue replied, “When you threatened my life, I most certainly did.”

Earlier in the day, Pellicano tried to prove that much of the information he was able to collect for clients, including social security numbers, credit history and other confidential information, could have been obtained legally through police reports and other public filings, especially during cross-examination of Steve Shuman, an attorney in a civil case that previously involved the private eye.

Meanwhile, Mona Soo Hoo, an attorney for Turner, tried to question how Virtue knew faxes were from Turner if there was no signature or cover sheet, or how she knew he was involved with wiretaps if he was never seen conducting them. The only thing Virtue could connect to Turner were handwritten notes.

Virtue said she knew Turner worked for Pac Bell but not what he did. He never told Virtue that, nor did he ever discuss wiretapping, she said.

Garry Shandling will become the prosecution’s first Hollywood personality to be called to the witness stand today, when he’ll likely discuss his heated case against former manager Brad Grey, whose lawyer had hired Pellicano. Virtue is expected to return within the next several days.

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