Christensen paid Pellicano $100,000 to listen in on Lisa Bonder Kerkorian's phone calls to her attorneys and to share the information with Christensen, Kerkorian's longtime lawyer and business partner, to give him a tactical edge in a bitter child support case in 2002, the grand jury alleged.
The indictment, which also charges Pellicano with two new counts of conspiracy and wiretapping, quotes liberally from extended taped conversations prosecutors have seized from the private detective's files. "There is no way, except with my unique techniques, that you would know this," Pellicano told Christensen as they discussed a wiretap April 27, 2002, the indictment alleges.
Christensen, 65, is one of a dozen people who have been charged so far in an ever-broadening FBI probe into the alleged bribery of law enforcement officers, high-tech eavesdropping, blackmail, witness intimidation and other bids to corrupt the judicial system. The inquiry began more than three years ago, but sources said Christensen was only notified in the last month that he was a target.
In an indictment last week, Pellicano was accused of wiretapping or conducting illegal background checks on dozens of celebrities and business executives, including actor Sylvester Stallone, comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, and real estate developer Robert Maguire. Pellicano has pleaded not guilty and is being held in federal custody without bond.
Christensen, best known as lawyer for Kerkorian, one of the nation's richest people and a Hollywood fixture for more than 30 years, has helped the enigmatic billionaire oversee a vast empire that includes the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels and, until last year, the MGM studio.
The attorney has been at the center of other nasty Hollywood fights, including producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters' dispute with Warner Bros. that led to their hiring by Columbia Pictures.
The Pellicano investigation, with its hints of celebrity secrets and skulduggery in executive suites, has long concerned Los Angeles' legal and entertainment circles. But the Christensen indictment brings the Hollywood angle into sharper focus.
Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, a 40-year-old former tennis pro who was married to Kerkorian for one month, was seeking $320,000 a month in support from her husband to pay for private jet flights, hotel accommodations, horses and parties for her then 4-year-old daughter, Kira, whose paternity was in dispute. Multimillionaire film producer Steve Bing later sued Kirk Kerkorian for allegedly hiring someone to dig through his trash for dental floss to prove — through DNA evidence — that he was Kira's father.
Colleagues said they were stunned by Christensen's indictment. They insisted he never participated in wiretapping and said he only turned to Pellicano to investigate death threats and extortion attempts against Kirk Kerkorian and Kira that arose during the child support fight.
"We are deeply saddened by today's developments," said attorney Jan Handzlik, one of three lawyers defending Christensen in the Pellicano case. "It is clear to us, that the U.S. attorney did not take the time to learn who Terry Christensen really is or to understand the context in which these events occurred."
In a statement, Kerkorian, now 88 said, "Terry Christensen is a paragon of integrity who has always done the right thing throughout the 35 years I have had the privilege of knowing him."
Patricia Glaser, Christensen's law partner, said in a statement that her colleague had reported the threats to the police, the district attorney and Los Angeles County child protective services. "We expect Mr. Christensen to be fully vindicated," the statement said.
Spokespersons for the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney's office said they could not immediately find any record of Christensen's reports.
Asst. U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said Christensen used wiretaps only to gain a tactical advantage.
"Patricia Glaser has not heard the evidence, and we believe it will thoroughly refute any contention that this wiretap was implemented for any purpose other than because of litigation," Saunders said.
Christensen, a Beverly Hills resident, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Also Wednesday, authorities arrested and charged an SBC employee — Joann Wiggan, 52, of Burbank. She was charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury about her knowledge of a colleague's role in wiretapping.
According to the indictment, the Lisa Kerkorian wiretapping began March 15, 2002, when an unnamed attorney called Pellicano and told him to contact Christensen about "going after" the wife's attorney, Stephen A. Kolodny. Kolodny had referred Christensen to the state bar for possible discipline for contacting Lisa Kerkorian without her attorney present.