Anthony Pellicano, private investigator to the stars, was charged Friday with conspiracy and making criminal threats for allegedly hiring a man three years ago to intimidate a Los Angeles Times reporter.
The charges, the result of a long-running federal and state probe of Pellicano, stem from a "Godfather"-like incident in which a dead fish with a rose in its mouth was placed on the windshield of the reporter's car.
The investigation has shaken Hollywood's entertainment and legal community, where Pellicano had gained some celebrity working for such clients as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's office alleges Pellicano, 61, hired Alexander Proctor in 2002 to make the threats against then-Times reporter Anita Busch.
Busch had been researching a story about alleged links between action movie star Steven Seagal and a reputed New York mobster when she discovered the fish and rose on her car the morning of June 20, 2002.
The objects were accompanied by a sign that read: "Stop." There was also a puncture in Busch's windshield that was made to look like a bullet hole, according to prosecutors.
For his alleged role in the incident, Pellicano faces two counts: making threats and criminal conspiracy. If convicted, he could be sentenced to at least 16 months in state prison.
Proctor, 61, who is serving 10 years on unrelated drug charges, already had been facing a felony count of making criminal threats. He was charged Friday with the additional count of conspiring with Pellicano to threaten Busch.
The charges are part of a large ongoing investigation, and it was decided to pursue them in state court, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. Prosecutors refused to say Friday who they believe hired Pellicano to make the alleged threats against Busch.
In a statement, Busch, who no longer works for The Times, praised the decision to prosecute. "I'm very happy that the justice system is working and that this case will finally get its day in court," she said.
Proctor allegedly told a federal informant that Pellicano asked him to carry out the threat during a secretly recorded conversation, according to court documents. Proctor told the informant that he was taking the job to erase a debt to Pellicano. He also told the informant Pellicano was acting on behalf of Seagal.
The action film star's attorneys have denied that Seagal was involved and said that he and Pellicano had had a falling out before the alleged threats were made. Investigators have expressed doubts that Seagal was involved.
For his part, Pellicano's lawyer, Donald Re, denied any involvement by his client in the alleged threats.
"I'm unaware of any evidence that connects Pellicano to these charges," Re said. "I can see no legitimate reason for the filing of charges at this time."
The private investigator is serving 30 months in federal prison after being convicted two years ago of possessing two illegal hand grenades and plastic explosives. The contraband was discovered by investigators looking into the Busch threats during a November 2002 search of Pellicano's Sunset Boulevard office.
The court this month rejected Pellicano's effort to overturn the conviction by challenging the legality of the search.
During the search, agents found a call list with Proctor's name and a folder labeled "Seagal," according to federal law enforcement sources. Telephone records obtained by investigators showed calls between Pellicano and Proctor, according to a source.
The investigation quickly moved to a wide-ranging wiretapping probe in which the Hollywood private investigator is suspected of secretly recording conversations for clients who were seeking information related to litigation.
The federal probe is continuing, and authorities would not comment on its status.
FBI agents since 2002 have approached several Hollywood figures engaged in litigation that involved use of Pellicano's services and told them their conversations were apparently recorded.
Prominent entertainment attorney Bert Fields, who at one time employed Pellicano, was notified he was the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into wiretapping -- meaning he was associated with events that are being probed but may not face criminal liability.
Busch has sued Pellicano, Proctor and others for invasion of privacy, among other things.
Her attorney, Matt Geragos, alleges in the lawsuit that the fish and rose were part of larger pattern of wiretapping and harassment that included threatening telephone messages, an effort to run her down and destruction of her computer's hard drive. Proctor, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in federal court, told an FBI informant he had originally been directed to blow up Busch's car.
The filing of charges against Pellicano comes as the investigator is nearing a February release on his weapons conviction.