Will PI rattle industry bigshots?
Once billed as the case that would bring down Hollywood kings and kingmakers including Brad Grey, Michael Ovitz and Bert Fields, the trial of private investigator Anthony Pellicano is scheduled to begin this week, albeit in a much diminished form.
The trial on federal wiretapping and racketeering charges now involves onetime P.I. to the stars Pellicano, who is representing himself, as well as four other defendants.
The trial of entertainment attorney Terry Christensen has been postponed until the conclusion of Pellicano’s trial. Christensen was indicted on charges that he hired Pellicano to wiretap Lisa Kerkorian, the ex-wife of Christensen’s longtime client Kirk Kerkorian, during a high-profile child-support case.
Although the Pellicano investigation and ensuing leaks became an obsession in Hollywood, the case netted just two high-profile indictments — that of Christensen and “Die Hard” director John McTiernan.
Jury selection is set for Wednesday, with opening statements possible as early as Thursday. In its trial brief, filed Friday, the government anticipates a 10-week trial and expects to call 80-100 witnesses.
The brief, a roadmap to the government’s case, suggests Pellicano’s actions in connection with Fields, Grey and Ovitz will play a substantial role at trial. Each has vociferously proclaimed his ignorance of Pellicano’s tactics, and there is no indication that they or the dozens of other moguls and power brokers whose names littered the three-year investigation are in any legal danger.
“They don’t need to worry about jail unless there is some shocking revelation at trial,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “They need to worry about being embarrassed.”
The government’s brief details Grey’s involvement with Pellicano on two cases that predate his tenure at the studio, when Grey headed management-production shingle Brillstein-Grey Entertainment. Grey was represented by Fields both times. The government’s brief focuses primarily on a 2002 case against producer Bo Zenga, who sued Grey over profits on “Scary Movie.” The brief also references Grey’s nasty 1998 suit against former client Garry Shandling.
In his lawsuit, Zenga claimed that pursuant to an oral contract with Brillstein-Grey, he was entitled to $3.5 million in profit participation on “Scary Movie” and not the $150,000 and executive producer credit he actually got. During discovery on the Zenga case, Grey’s attorneys learned that a scriptwriting contest Zenga won was a scam and also came up with other irregularities in his resume. By the time of trial, the fact that Zenga had asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to answer hundreds of deposition questions became the focus of the case.
In an unusual move, the trial judge took the case away from the jury and directed a verdict in Grey’s favor. Zenga, who lost subsequent appeals, filed a civil suit in 2004 against Pellicano, Grey and Fields that is pending.
According to the government’s brief, Grey’s legal team hired Pellicano and paid him $25,000 to work on the case. Pellicano’s associate, former LAPD officer Mark Arneson, ran illegal background checks on Zenga, his brother, his business associates and his wife, reporter Zorianna Kit. Zenga’s phone also was tapped, and hundreds of his phone calls were intercepted over a three-month period.
Shandling’s suit against his onetime manager alleged a conflict of interest because Grey acted as producer of his series, “The Larry Sanders Show,” which was produced for HBO by Brillstein-Grey Television, while also serving as his manager. The case was ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount believed to be far less that the millions Shandling had sought in damages.
According to the government’s brief, Arneson ran illegal background checks on Shandling, his friends Kevin and Linda Nealon and security expert Gavin DeBecker and former girlfriend Linda Doucett. Doucett, a onetime cast member who had a relationship and acrimonious breakup with Shandling, had sued him for sexual harassment.
As for Ovitz, the government’s brief focuses on the waning days of his management company, AMG. According to the brief, Pellicano and Ovitz discussed individuals within the entertainment community who were the source of bad press and Ovitz’s belief that New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub and Los Angeles Times writer Anita Busch were recycling negative stories about him. Arneson ran illegal background checks on Busch and Weinraub and Busch’s phone line was tapped. The government’s brief also mentions, without further comment, that Arneson ran illegal background checks on Ovitz’s former CAA partners Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane in 2001.
Fields plays a central role in the story as Grey’s attorney, an adviser to Ovitz and frequent user of Pellicano’s services over a 10-year period. However, he is mentioned in the government’s brief only in connection with Pellicano’s wiretaps of movie producer and Nevada gubernatorial candidate Aaron Russo. Hedge fund manager Adam Sender hired Fields to sue Russo after he spent more than $1 million on a production company that never materialized. On Fields’ recommendation, Sender hired Pellicano. At trial, Sender is expected to testify that Pellicano played him five to 10 illegal telephone recordings of calls between Russo, his sons and his political contacts.
As for the conduct of the trial itself, the big questions revolve around Pellicano.
“It’s always difficult when a client represents himself,” Levenson said. The issues are “whether Pellicano will take the stand and how he will question witnesses in his role as counsel.”
“Expect the unexpected,” she said. “Pellicano may choose just to give an opening and closing argument, which can’t be cross-examined.”
On the prosecution side, Levenson anticipates lots of documentary evidence and testimony by Pellicano’s accomplices. “Don’t expect the prosecution to call a slew of celebrities,” she said.
Pellicano was indicted on Feb. 6, 2006, on federal racketeering charges for allegedly conducting numerous illegal wiretaps and paying tens of thousands of dollars to police officers to provide him with confidential law enforcement information on numerous individuals, including well-known personalities. The wiretaps and background checks usually were conducted during litigation, often for well-known members of the entertainment bar.
Indicted with Pellicano and defendants at the trial are Arneson, a former LAPD officer; Rayford Earl Turner, a former field technician for SBC and Pac Bell; Kevin Kachikian, who allegedly developed the wiretapping software; and Abner Nicherie, who was involved in a business dispute with a man allegedly wiretapped by Pellicano.
Thus far, the most high-profile guilty plea has been McTiernan’s. He was sentenced to four months in federal prison for lying to the FBI about hiring Pellicano to illegally wiretap producer Charles Roven in 2000.
Pellicano’s troubles began in November 2002 when FBI agents raided his Hollywood office. Although it still remains unclear exactly what they were looking for, it appears they were investigating a threat against Busch, who was working on a story about alleged mob ties of actor Steven Seagal’s. She found a rose, a dead fish and a threatening note on the smashed windshield of her car. Pellicano associate Alexander Proctor was charged with making the threat against Busch, but the FBI never found any evidence connecting Seagal to the threat.
In the 2002 raid of Pellicano’s office, the FBI found explosives and grenades, which led to a 2003 guilty plea to possession of illegal weapons. Also discovered were thousands of hours of encoded tapes from wiretaps, the bulk of which never have been decrypted; Pellicano made these tapes in the course of investigations for his clients.
Upon his release from prison on the weapons sentence in 2006, Pellicano was immediately indicted on the wiretapping charges for which, after many delays, he is now standing trial.