Pellicano trial a story made for Hollywood
The case has been in the works for years and includes celebrities, power brokers and threats. At the heart of it is the onetime investigator to the stars.
In this artist's depiction, private investigator Anthony Pellicano, wearing a green jail jumpsuit, is seen acting as his own attorney during the start of jury selection in his federal wiretapping case Wednesday, March 5, 2008, in Los Angeles. (Bill Robles / Associated Press / March 5, 2008)
With alleged victims including actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine and secret grand jury testimony from the likes of super-agent Mike Ovitz and studio executives Brad Grey and Ron Meyer, the case was seen by many as the entertainment industry's biggest scandal in decades.
Although it never lived up to its billing, the racketeering and wiretapping trial that begins today in Los Angeles federal court will still offer plenty of star power and plot twists over the next two months.
Stallone and Carradine are expected to be among a long list of witnesses who will describe how Pellicano's alleged snooping cost them lawsuits, careers or a sense of security. Ovitz, Grey and others will probably testify; celebrity attorney Bertram Fields may also be called.
Pellicano's clients have told authorities that they were unaware that he was breaking the law.
"The whole story has not been told, so people are waiting for the dirt to come out at trial," said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson, explaining the continuing interest in the case.
"They are waiting to find out: Why was Pellicano hired? What did he find out about these celebrities? And what can he tell us about what goes on in that world?" said Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.
The trial before U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer comes nearly six years after a threat against a former Los Angeles Times reporter led the FBI to raid Pellicano's Sunset Strip offices and haul away truckloads of documents, tape recordings and computers.
Since then, industry insiders say, some of Los Angeles' biggest stars, studio executives and entertainment attorneys have held their breath, fearful that the tentacles of the federal probe could ensnare them as part of Pellicano's alleged enterprise to dig up dirt on dozens of people.
Federal prosecutors have secured guilty pleas from seven Pellicano clients or co-conspirators including "Die Hard" film director John McTiernan; former music company executive Robert Pfeifer; Sandra Carradine, ex-wife of actor Keith Carradine; and former Beverly Hills police officer Craig Stevens.
The 63-year-old Pellicano, acting as his own attorney, now faces trial with his remaining co-defendants: ex-LAPD Sgt. Mark Arneson, former telephone company technician Rayford Earl Turner, computer consultant Kevin Kachikian and Las Vegas businessman Abner Nicherie. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Pellicano will be tried on separate counts with entertainment attorney Terry Christensen about a month after the first trial concludes, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Among the longest-running criminal cases in recent Hollywood history, the Pellicano investigation began with an event straight out of an old B movie.
On the morning of June 20, 2002, then-Times reporter Anita Busch awoke to a neighbor's news that someone had smashed the windshield of Busch's car.
Walking to her vehicle, Busch found a dead fish, a rose and a note with a one-word warning: "STOP."
Busch told authorities she believed that the threat was a result of her research into action film star Steven Seagal and his onetime producing partner, Julius R. Nasso, who had been indicted with New York mob figures for allegedly plotting to extort Seagal.
The day after the threat, Busch said, she had six voice-mail messages at her office from someone wanting to talk with her about her reporting on Seagal.
The caller, an FBI informant, told her he had recently met a man who said he had been hired by a detective agency to intimidate Busch.
The detective agency, authorities later alleged, was Pellicano's.
But what began as a little-noticed threat investigation quickly grew into a sweeping and high-profile inquiry into the inner workings of Hollywood deal-making, litigation and domestic scandals. And, at the center of the probe was the self-described investigator to the stars.