Pellicano Won’t ‘Rat Out’ Clients
In his first interview in three years, jailed private eye Anthony Pellicano accused federal authorities of exaggerating the strength of their case against him, which he predicted would soon fizzle out like a box-office flop.
Speaking by telephone from the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles one morning last week, a defiant Pellicano insisted that he would never cooperate with authorities or testify against a bevy of A-list lawyers, Hollywood executives, business moguls and celebrities who have hired him over the years to dig up dirt on their adversaries.
“My loyalty never dies,” said Pellicano, 62. “You’re not going to see me take the stand against the clients and employees and other people that are going to be testifying against me. I didn’t rat them out. You understand? I am never going to besmirch a client or any other person that I gave my trust to or who gave their trust to me. I’m never going to do that. I am going to be a man until I fall -- if, in fact, that happens.”
Until an alleged mob-style threat against a Los Angeles Times reporter almost four years ago landed him in prison, Pellicano was Hollywood’s private eye to the stars -- and their lawyers -- for nearly a quarter century.
His subsequent imprisonment in 2003 on illegal-firearms charges and indictment earlier this year for alleged racketeering and illegal wiretapping has kept much of Hollywood on the edge of its seat, wondering who else might be implicated in a burgeoning criminal probe.
The importance of Pellicano’s vow of silence is not lost on his anxious clients and could be a critical factor in who else gets implicated and who doesn’t.
So far, Pellicano and 12 others have been charged, including an entertainment attorney, a record company executive, two former police officers and several telephone company employees.
Six have admitted to lying to authorities and other charges stemming from hiring Pellicano or helping him conduct alleged illegal investigations; Pellicano and six others named in a 112-count indictment have pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders, the lead prosecutor, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on Pellicano’s statements.
“The grand jury has heard the evidence and has returned a 112-count indictment, and we look forward to the opportunity to present that evidence in court,” Saunders said.
In the interview, a 30-minute session that detention center officials allowed to be conducted over an unmonitored line, Pellicano spoke with characteristic bravado, citing his strength and personal integrity while sneering at “overzealous” prosecutors and their “bogus” case.
“The federal government has purposely tried to make this thing larger than life -- like a Hollywood movie,” Pellicano said. “To me, these are the acts of overzealous FBI agents and prosecutors who have never really accomplished anything in their careers. They are trying to use my name and reputation to build something better for themselves.
“I think they had it in their minds that this is some big case where I’m purportedly wiretapping all kinds of celebrities and there are all these tapes. By the way, where are all these recordings that they are talking about? The government said they have a bunch. But they have never provided them to us in discovery. And they never will. Because they don’t exist.”
Federal authorities haven’t described in detail what they seized in searches of Pellicano’s Sunset Boulevard office in November 2002, other than to say it was voluminous: thousands of pages of documents and hours of encrypted audiotapes, some of which the government is still trying to decrypt.
The searches came after an FBI informant surfaced with a tape recording of a career criminal boasting that he had placed a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a sign that said “Stop” on the windshield of Times reporter Anita Busch’s car at Pellicano’s behest.
Pellicano denies ordering the threat against Busch.
“Anybody knows that there is no way in the world that I am going to tell somebody to put a flower and a fish on somebody’s car with a sign that says ‘Stop.’ C’mon,” Pellicano said. “You know the kind of guy I am. If I got a problem with you, I’m in your face.”
A key to expanding the federal case is proving that attorneys and others who hired Pellicano knew that he was obtaining information on their adversaries through allegedly illegal means.
Federal agents have been particularly interested in Pellicano’s association with prominent entertainment attorney Bert Fields, who hired the detective numerous times over the last two decades. One case was a dispute between comedian Garry Shandling and Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey.
Fields, who has not been charged in the case, has publicly acknowledged that he is a subject of the investigation but has denied wrongdoing and said through his attorneys that he had no knowledge of any illegal conduct by Pellicano.
He could call Pellicano as a defense witness.
“There is no way in the world that any lawyer who has got any brains is going to hire somebody to do something illegal,” Pellicano said. “Why throw away your law license?
“And of all the people in the world to suspect it of: Bert Fields? Mr. Clean Jeans? Mr. Straight Arrow? My God, I don’t think I’ve even heard him curse in the entire time I’ve known him -- let alone say, ‘Hey, Pellicano, I want you to go out and do this or do that.’ I mean, Come on.”
Known for keeping a Louisville slugger in the trunk of his car, Pellicano would only cop to being a private eye who had ways of getting information.
“This case boils down to two things -- and only two. It’s not a complex issue,” he said. “Did I get information? Did I have contacts in the phone company? Did I have contacts in law enforcement? You understand? I don’t know a private investigator in the world that doesn’t -- and if he doesn’t, he’s not going to do a hell of a lot of business.
“I’m a private investigator, but now I’m being called a racketeer because I have law enforcement contacts that provide me with information. Let me tell you though, the door swung both ways. I helped them out, and they helped me out.”
Indeed, Pellicano wasn’t always at odds with authorities.
Over the last 20 years, FBI agents and federal prosecutors often hired Pellicano, a skilled forensic audio expert, to analyze tape recordings and testify in court as an expert witness. Before his office was raided in 2002, undercover officers and FBI agents frequently visited his lab to seek out his expertise in cleaning up obscured recordings, according to former Pellicano employees.
It was Pellicano’s work five years ago that helped federal officials win a case stemming from a 1963 racist bombing at a Birmingham, Ala., church in which four African American girls died. Pellicano cleaned up the recording so the jury could hear the defendants discussing the crime.
“The FBI had those tapes since 1965 and they couldn’t clean them up,” Pellicano said. “So they asked me to do it. And as a result of my work they won the case. My lab was better than anybody’s.... But all that is irrelevant now. My clients loved me while they needed me -- and it’s the same thing with the government.”
Pellicano said it is ironic that federal officials are accusing him of wiretapping at a time when the government is under fire for authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. residents without court warrants and for compiling databases of domestic calls.
“If the American public had any idea of all the surveillance, wiretapping and illegal things that our own government actually does, they would be shocked,” Pellicano said. “Chasing terrorists is what the FBI is supposed to be doing. I’ve got to tell you, if instead of keeping me behind bars here, they gave me the job of finding Osama bin Laden, I guarantee you I would find him.”
Pellicano said he tries to keep busy in what he refers to as “the joint.”
“I play chess. I read. I try to improve my mind,” he said. “I read fiction. Some nonfiction, but very little of that, mostly books on mathematics. I enjoy those kinds of books. People send me mind puzzlers. And that passes the time. And working on this case, trying to put things together.”
Still, he considers himself lucky, compared with many “kids” he meets in prison serving 15-year sentences or more for crimes like drug possession.
“What I tell these kids, I say, ‘These are mistakes that you made. Now be a man. Just do your time and shut up.’ You got to pay for your sins. That’s the way it works in this life. You always pay for your mistakes, no matter what you’ve done, little or big, grand or minute, you’re going to pay for your sins, one way or another. But to the extent that these young guys are paying, it is outrageous.”
In 2003, Pellicano was sentenced to 30 months at the Taft Correctional Institute, a federal prison in Taft, Calif., after FBI agents found two hand grenades and plastic explosives in his office safe.
The wiretapping indictment came in February, just as his sentence was about to expire. He was denied bail on the new charges.
Being incarcerated, he said, has devastated him as well as his wife and nine children from previous marriages.
“I’m broke. I have absolutely no money, and my family is suffering as a result of my not being there,” he said. “The worst thing in the world about this is that I have an autistic son who needs me, and I am not there for him. And my little girls need me, and I am not there for them. That’s the unfortunate thing. You know these types of things always hurt the family.”
On top of all that, he accused the government of pulling “little stunts to make my life miserable,” including accusations that he conspired behind bars with Chicago mobsters to put a hit on a former associate, threatened a prosecutor and a Vanity Fair reporter, and even participated in a plot to spring him from prison by helicopter.
But he remains unrepentant.
“With the escape plot, I was supposed to have had an armed helicopter coming to pull me out of prison on Thanksgiving, which was Nov. 25. Right!” Pellicano said. “I started laughing when they told me this story. I said, ‘Well then why did you wait until Dec. 1 to put me in the hole?’ But you know what? I’m a fighter. They keep trying to make me weaker. But they’ve only made me stronger.”