The sentencing of director John McTiernan to a year in prison for his role in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping cast signals the final chapter to a story once hyped as the Hollywood scandal to end all scandals.
But the gossip about the case remained just that — chatter. Outside of Pellicano himself, McTiernan is the only other figure of notoriety to face a prison term in the scandal — a fact not lost on his attorney, Oliver Diaz, who said that they will appeal. In the meantime, McTiernan, once one of the most sought after directors in the industry, having helmed “Die Hard” and “The Hunt for Red October,” is free on bond.
“Mr. McTiernan was forced to plead guilty to a crime most people don’t even know is a crime,” Diaz said in a statement released later in the day, adding that they “firmly believe he will prevail” in at Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer also sentenced McTiernan to three years of supervised probation and a $100,000 fine. In the Los Angeles courtroom, McTiernan tilted his head slightly to the floor and kept his hands in his pockets as she rejected his attorneys’ efforts to minimize his sentence and avoid jail time, saying that she would have imposed a harsher sentence had federal prosecutors not recommended less. And she all but mocked their arguments that McTiernan already had served his punishment in the form of a loss of reputation and career opportunities, as well as fears that his health would be at risk because of uncertainty over whether he would have access to a medication and diet to treat depression.
“The defendant’s crimes do not reflect a momentary lapse of judgment,” she said, at times reading from prepared remarks.
In July, McTiernan, 59, issued a conditional guilty plea to two counts of making false statements to an FBI agent and one count of making false declarations before a court.
He found himself engulfed in the case in 2006, when FBI special agent Stanley Ornellas phoned him at his Wyoming home and asked whether he had ever discussed wiretapping with Pellicano and whether Pellicano ever mentioned that he had the ability to wiretap. McTiernan denied it, but investigators had already retrieved recordings of a 2000 conversation between Pellicano and McTiernan in which they are discussing the wiretapped conversations of producer Charles Roven. McTiernan had hired Pellicano to investigate Roven, once a business colleague.
McTiernan originally plead guilty to lying to a federal agent in 2007 and was sentenced to four months in prison, but on appeal he withdrew the plea after he argued that his legal respresentation was insufficient. Fischer imposed an even greater sentence on Monday because she said it did not reflect an added, more serious charge of perjury before her court.
Since his initial sentencing, McTiernan has since hired Diaz, a former Mississippi state Supreme Court justice who was twice charged and acquitted of public corruption.
Calling the prosecutors “overzealous,” Diaz said that when Ornellas called “at home during dinner like a telemarketer,” he did not tell McTiernan he was the subject of an investigation, did not read him his Miranda rights or “even offer him an opportunity to refresh his memory.”
“Records in this case show that nearly every one contacted by this agent denied knowledge of Pellicano’s activities, making statements similar to McTiernan’s,” Diaz said. “The average American has no idea that a simple denial on a telephone can result in a five-year prison sentence.”
His legal team had pointed out that McTiernan was never charged with wiretapping, but that he was “a very short time ‘wiretapping customer’ of a crooked private investigator” who, on the 2000 conversation with Pellicano, also told him to “stop now.”
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said before the court that “other than the bare fact of a plea, Mr. McTiernan hasn’t accepted responsibility for anything.” In court filings, prosecutors argued that although McTiernan had not been charged with wiretapping, the only reason was that the statute of limitations had passed by the time the FBI in 2005 obtained Pellicano’s encrypted recording of the conversation.
They said that McTiernan’s explanations for his initial conversation with Ornellas “seeks neatly to sweep under the rug the fact that he has now leaded guilty — and is being sentenced on — and additional and more serious charge, perjury before a United States District Court.”
McTiernan’s attorneys said that his net worth has fallen significantly even since 2007, to about $103,000. In light of the sentencing and his appeal, it’s unclear what will happen to plans announced last month for him to direct the action thriller “Shrapnel” for Belgian production and financing company Corson and L.A.-based FilmEngine. His last film project was “Basic” in 2003.