Celebrity lawyer fields is subject of wiretap probe

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Bert Fields, the prominent entertainment lawyer whose celebrity clientele has included Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Kevin Costner, said Tuesday that he has formally been notified that he is a subject of a federal grand jury investigation into illegal wiretapping.

"I've been told that I am a subject, not a target, of the investigation," Fields said. "But I have never in any case had anything to do with illegal wiretapping. I don't do that."

A "target" in a federal investigation is a person who is likely to be charged and at whom the investigation is aimed. "Subject," by contrast, is a broad category that can cover a person who is associated with events involved in the investigation and who may or may not face criminal liability.

Fields' statement came as the former nanny for a wealthy publishing heiress said in an interview that she had testified before the grand jury and had been asked extensive questions about Fields.

Her statements were the first public confirmation that the grand jury has taken testimony about the lawyer.

"They had a great interest in Bert Fields. They asked me a ton of questions about him," said Pamela W. Miller.

Miller was the nanny to Taylor Thomson, a client of Fields' firm. Thomson is a member of the family that owned Canada's largest newspaper company. Miller has sued Thomson alleging that she was wrongly fired from her job.

Investigators in the wiretapping case have questioned a broad range of entertainment industry figures, including Warren Beatty and comedian Garry Shandling, according to attorneys involved in the probe. Beatty declined to return calls, as did Shandling.

Prosecutors are using the grand jury to investigate allegations involving Anthony Pellicano, a private investigator who worked for Fields and other entertainment industry figures. Investigators have told several of those they have questioned that they believe Pellicano wiretapped them.

They are seeking to determine whether people who hired Pellicano may have authorized the surveillance or been aware of it.

Federal officials have not commented on the scope of their investigation. But at least one other prominent lawyer's name has come up in grand jury testimony.

Lawyers familiar with the testimony said Tuesday that the grand jury has examined at least one case handled by Ed Masry, who became well known when he worked with environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Masry did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Masry's name was raised during grand jury testimony by Kissandra Cohen, a former employee of the Westlake Village attorney. Last year, Cohen won a $120,000 judgment in a slander case against Masry. Masry appealed that judgment as well as the award of $600,000 in attorney's fees to Cohen's lawyers. The appeal is pending.

According to an associate of Cohen's who is familiar with the case, she was asked at the grand jury about wiretapping and about checks that Masry had written to Pellicano.

The source said Cohen "identified checks that Masry wrote to Pellicano and a check written to Pellicano by another Masry employee. Cohen verified that it was Masry's signature," the source said.

The source said that Cohen had suspected for some time during her litigation against Masry that her telephone had been tapped because of questions she was confronted with during depositions.

Masry does not appear to be a major focus of the investigation, however, the source said, adding: "Masry is two pages out of a 50-page chapter."

Fields, by contrast, appears to be a major focus of the probe. Federal agents have questioned several lawyers and their clients who went up against Fields.

Miller, the former nanny, was one of those opponents. Attorney Robert Chapman, one of Fields' partners, on Tuesday called Miller a "disgruntled former employee" and noted that her suit alleging she had been wrongfully fired had been dismissed by a federal judge in mid-October. Miller's attorneys have since refiled some of her claims.

Another person who has been questioned is Jude Green, who was involved in a bitter divorce case in which Fields' firm represented her then-husband. The ex-husband, Leonard Green, who died recently, was the founder of the West Coast's biggest leveraged-buyout firm and former chief executive of the Los Angeles Opera.

Investigators told Jude Green that they thought her phones had been tapped, according to lawyers familiar with the interview.

Bo Zenga, a producer who lost a lawsuit against Fields' client Brad Grey, has also testified before the grand jury.

Zenga sued Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, saying the firm had violated an unwritten agreement to form a producing partnership with him for a movie project. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled against Zenga, as did a state appeals court, which issued a ruling on Nov. 4.

The appellate ruling challenged Zenga's credibility, saying he "lied by portraying himself as a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, a successful investment banker, an award-winning screenwriter, an award-winning playwright and a person having access to independent financing for films."

Zenga contested those characterizations and said Tuesday night that he planned to appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court.

Asked about the wiretapping case, Zenga said that earlier this year, he "was contacted by the FBI, and they asked me questions about Brad Grey and Bert Fields hiring Anthony Pellicano to tap my phone lines and the hiring of a rogue LAPD officer who illegally investigated me and my wife."

Zenga added that he had testified in May before the grand jury at the request of the U.S. attorney's office. "The topics covered were wiretapping and the intimidation of witnesses in my case with Brad Grey," he said.

The "rogue cop" Zenga referred to was Sgt. Mark Arneson, a 29-year LAPD veteran who was suspended in June for allegedly tapping into confidential police databases on behalf of Pellicano.

FBI agents and LAPD investigators who searched Pellicano's office obtained records that led to Arneson. In June, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said Arneson was the subject of a joint LAPD-FBI probe and "has been placed on inactive duty."

Miller, the former nanny, said she learned during her talks with the FBI that she was on a list of people Arneson had compiled information on.

"The fact that my name was on a policeman's list -- I have a chill that runs down my spine," she said. "That is such an invasion of privacy, that a police officer would take such liberty makes me feel extraordinarily vulnerable. I felt people were following me and watching me. I felt very alone and very isolated and very vulnerable. Who do you go to if you can't trust the police?"

The wiretapping probe had its origins more than a year ago when more than a dozen FBI agents raided Pellicano's offices on Sunset Boulevard, searching for evidence that might link him to a threat against a Los Angeles Times reporter, Anita Busch. The reporter had been investigating the relationship between actor Steven Seagal and a reputed mob figure.

The agents seized several items from Pellicano's office, including tapes that led to the wiretapping investigation.

Last month, Pellicano pleaded guilty to illegally possessing C-4 plastic explosives and two modified hand grenades that had been discovered during the same search of his offices. He faces 27 to 33 months in prison and will be sentenced in January.

In court papers, prosecutors said that Pellicano had been preparing to assert that he had taken the grenades and explosives from "a former client who died of a drug overdose in 1996." Sources familiar with the case confirmed that the former client was Don Simpson, the now deceased Hollywood producer.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders, who has handled the case, declined to comment.

*Times staff writers Paul Lieberman and James Bates contributed to this report.

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