As the trial of private investigator Anthony Pellicano neared its end Wednesday, ex-journalist Anita M. Busch choked back tears on the witness stand as she relived events that took place more than five years ago, after she had just started working as a contract employee for the Los Angeles Times.
Near the end of her emotional testimony, Busch offered an endorsement of Pellicano’s expertise as a P.I. from an unexpected source: the L.A. Times itself.
On June 20, 2002, Busch received what she described as a “death threat” when someone punctured the window of her Audi and left a dead fish, a rose and a note reading “Stop” on her dashboard.
The next day, Busch met with L.A. Times editor John Carroll and the paper’s lawyer, Karlene Goller. According to Busch, Carroll said that the paper was not going to investigate the incident on its own, and Goller suggested hiring Pellicano. “He’s worked with us in the past and done well by us,” she told Busch.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, L.A. Times spokeswoman Nancy Sullivan said, “Neither the L.A. Times nor its lawyers has ever hired Anthony Pellicano.”
However, a March 24 New York Times story reported that L.A. Times reporter Paul Lieberman also heard Goller make the Pellicano suggestion. Los Angeles Times reporter Chuck Philips also told the New York Times that while he doubted that the paper would ever hire Pellicano, he did attempt to reach the detective at Goller’s behest.
Pellicano is defending himself and offered a cross-examination of Busch, their first public face-off after five years of investigations.
Busch — a former Variety staffer and onetime editor of the Hollywood Reporter — barely looked at Pellicano, but took the opportunity to say, at one point, “You don’t have a very good reputation.”
Busch broke down in tears as she recalled an incident on Aug. 16, 2002, when a dirt-colored Mercedes without plates and dark windows came barreling down on her as she crossed the street in front of her home.
She said she leaped into her car and was paralyzed at the wheel as the car pulled up alongside her and a man “with a sickening smile on his face” made gestures with his hand indicating goodbye.
“I remember thinking I was going to die,” said Busch.
The journalist later uncovered a computer virus that destroyed many of her files, as well as ongoing problems with her phone, which turned out to be wiretapped. An SBC representative told her: “It’s to monitor phone conversations.”
“I was stunned,” Busch said.
Busch has filed civil suits against ex-CAA chief Michael Ovitz, who also testified Wednesday, as well as Pellicano. (The civil suits await the results of the federal criminal trial.)
Chad Hummel, the attorney for former LAPD sergeant Mark Arneson, asked Busch what her allegation was against Ovitz. “He was part of this whole thing.” When he looked skeptical, she snapped, “Don’t look at me like that. The evidence points to Mike Ovitz.”
Earlier in the day, Ovitz admitted he hired Pellicano to get info about people (including Universal studio chief Ron Meyer and DreamWorks partner David Geffen) whom he believed were sources for New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub and freelancer-collaborator Busch’s series of damaging and “embarrassing” articles about his Artists Management Group.
But Hummel painted an alternative scenario: that Busch and co-writer Paul Lieberman’s pieces for the L.A. Times about Steven Seagal and writing partner Julius Nasso’s ties to organized crime, published just two weeks before the incident, provoked the “Godfather”-inspired “swims with fishes” threat.
Hummel said that Busch herself had suspected such an explanation at the time and said so to the FBI. It was after the discovery of Busch’s wiretap that the FBI revved up its investigation of Pellicano.
Hummel and Pellicano both hammered Busch about her contract to write a book, with Dan Moldea and John Connolly, titled “A Woman at Risk” about her experience.
She has since changed her mind. “There will never be a book,” she said.
Under stern cross-examination by Pellicano, who was wearing green prison drab and white sneakers, Busch became emotional again.
“I was scared 24/7 for my life,” she said. “I didn’t know how I was going to survive financially. I thought (the book) would be the way to do it, but I realized it was not the right way. It was a big mistake. After the threats and everything happened to me, I couldn’t focus. Because of the wiretap, my sources fell away. I struggled to be a journalist, but I couldn’t continue. I couldn’t see a future, I saw everything slipping away. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
At this point Busch couldn’t speak and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “It was a relentless attack, Mr. Pellicano, as you know.”
“That will be stricken from the record,” responded Judge Dale S. Fischer.
When Pellicano began grilling Busch about the car incident, the prosecutors protested to the judge that she shouldn’t be forced to relive it a second time.
“I stopped writing,” Busch said, “because I was being told (the threat) meant not to talk to law enforcement. If I did I would be killed.”