Billionaire acts as character witness

Kirk Kerkorian, age 91 and worth well north of $10 billion, made a rare appearance in a courtroom Wednesday.

Alert, nimble, tanned and nattily dressed in blue blazer and red tie, Kerkorian was essentially acting as a character witness for his former lawyer, Terry Christensen, who is facing federal wiretapping charges stemming from his association with onetime Hollywood gumshoe Anthony Pellicano.

The first question Kerkorian faced from Christensen’s lead attorney, Patty Glaser, produced hearty laughter in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom, even from no-nonsense U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer.

“Describe your background,” Glaser asked of the mogul who famously bought and sold MGM three times, among many other business ventures.

Kerkorian kept his answer to a succinct two minutes, as instructed by the judge.

The rest of his half-hour on the witness stand wasn’t nearly as interesting.

To no one’s surprise, Kerkorian insisted he didn’t know anything about wiretapping or other activities of Anthony Pellicano.

No one saw fit to press the question.

Christensen is charged with hiring Pellicano to wiretap Kerkorian’s ex-wife Lisa Bonder. Prosecutors claim Christensen wanted Pellicano to get information in connection with a 2002 child support hearing in which Bonder was seeking an increase to $320,000 a month. DNA evidence ultimately showed that producer Steve Bing is the child’s father. Christensen has denied knowledge of Pellicano’s wiretapping.

In discussing his background, Kerkorian, whose investments have included a major stake in General Motors and properties in Las Vegas, responded that he dropped out of school after seventh grade, flew planes, bought an airline and then got into some other businesses, including casinos, automobiles and oil. The still-active investor is currently back in the news on rumors that he is making an offer to buy MGM again.Kerkorian testified that he has known Christensen for more than 35 years as a true friend, excellent lawyer and honest person. Christensen has acted not only as his attorney but also, for a brief period, as president of Tracinda, Kerkorian’s holding company.

More substantively, Kerkorian testified that he had no knowledge of wiretapping until charges were brought in this case. He testified that he did have questions about the paternity of Bonder’s child and attended a meeting in 2002 with Christensen, Bing and Pellicano. However, Kerkorian testified that he was not sure whom Pellicano was representing and that Bing never willingly provided a DNA sample. Bing’s DNA was ultimately obtained “through our own security,” Kerkorian said.

Christensen’s defense team claims that Pellicano never wiretapped Bonder. In her opening statement, Glaser said that government’s tapes are conversations between Christensen and Pellicano that Pellicano recorded for his own purposes and not tapes of actual wiretaps. The defense further claims that although Christensen hired Pellicano, Pellicano never really worked on his behalf because his true loyalties were with Bing, his friend and longtime client.

During a brief cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Lally repeatedly tried to get Kerkorian to acknowledge that Pellicano was really working for Christensen, not Bing, and that he knew Pellicano was wiretapping Bonder on his behalf. Fischer, however, sustained defense objections that the attorney-client privilege barred Kerkorian from testifying to conversations he had had with Christensen.

Pellicano was convicted on 76 charges of wiretapping, computer fraud and racketeering in May (Daily Variety, May 16). Pellicano’s sentencing is set for Sept. 24.

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