Top Divorce Lawyer’s Ties to Pellicano Are Probed

Share via
Times Staff Writers

Divorce lawyer Dennis Wasser, who has represented some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, has been notified by federal authorities that he is a “person of interest” in their ongoing probe of indicted private investigator Anthony Pellicano, Wasser’s attorneys said Tuesday.

In the parlance of federal investigations, a “person of interest” or “subject” falls within a broad category of individuals who are associated with the events in question and who may or may not face prosecution. In contrast, a “target” is a person at whom the investigation is aimed and who is likely to be charged.

Lawyers for the noted Century City attorney said they do not believe he has committed any crimes or will face charges.


“Based on what I understand the facts to be, I don’t see where Dennis did anything wrong, and he should not have any kind of problem,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Vincent J. Marella, one of Wasser’s lawyers.

To date, authorities have not publicly named Wasser as a subject in the FBI’s more than 3-year-old wiretapping and racketeering investigation of Pellicano and others. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office on Tuesday declined to comment about Wasser or their probe.

Federal authorities have not made any statement indicating that Wasser’s representation of Cruise, Spielberg or other celebrities is under investigation.

There has, however, been widespread speculation about Wasser’s role in the Pellicano case since charges were brought two weeks ago against Terry N. Christensen, a prominent entertainment lawyer. Christensen was charged with paying Pellicano $100,000 to wiretap the former wife of his client, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Christensen has denied the charge.

In the indictment, the grand jury alleged that an unnamed lawyer called Pellicano on March 15, 2002, and told him to contact Christensen about “going after” attorney Stephen A. Kolodny, who was representing Kerkorian’s former wife in a child custody battle. Kolodny had reported Christensen to the state bar for contacting his client, Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, without her attorney present.

Wasser was the unnamed lawyer, according to attorneys representing individuals who have been questioned in the Pellicano case. Wasser did not return calls seeking comment about the Christensen indictment. The government’s interest in Wasser was first reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles Daily Journal.


Kolodny, who represented Lisa Bonder Kerkorian at the time of the alleged wiretapping, said Tuesday that he was outraged that lawyers would engage in such acts. He also said he was shocked that Wasser, who he described as “a multi-decade friend of mine,” might have set the scenario in motion.

“The real feelings I have had are about the betrayal of a 20-plus-year friend, to do something like this to me in a case for no reason I can perceive, other than the arrogance of power and the pervasive influence of money,” Kolodny said. “It is a very strange feeling. The idea they would be wiretapping our conversations is beyond anything you can really imagine.”

Like Wasser, Kolodny has been practicing law in Los Angeles since the 1960s and is considered one of Los Angeles’ top divorce attorneys.

“We have had lots of cases adverse to each other.... He is a good lawyer, one of the top guys” in the divorce field, Kolodny said. He added that Wasser got many of his clients by referral from the law firm of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger and Kinsella, where Wasser once practiced.

A racketeering and conspiracy indictment last month accused Pellicano and associates of wiretapping or illegally accessing police databases on individuals involved in six cases litigated by Greenberg Glusker. The firm’s highest profile partner, Bert Fields, has acknowledged he is a subject of the probe.

Attorneys for Fields and the firm have denied any knowledge of Pellicano’s allegedly illegal activities. Pellicano has denied the charges


Kolodny said he met Wasser years ago as they developed their divorce practices.

“We have been friends for decades.... We have river-rafted together, horse-packed together,” and spent time at each other’s homes, Kolodny said.

Asked if he had asked Wasser about the allegation that he referred Pellicano to Christensen, Kolodny said: “He and I have engaged in some e-mail communication. I asked him when the story broke about the unnamed lawyer. It seemed to fit.”

Kolodny said he asked Wasser, “ ‘Yes or no, did you do this?’ He responded that it was not appropriate to discuss this. I got that e-mail” Monday.

Kolodny also said he had met Pellicano years ago.

“I just didn’t like the guy,” the attorney recalled. Kolodny said he was so offended by the private investigator that he established a standing order at his law firm: “If someone came in and wanted to use Pellicano, the client was told it is Kolodny or Pellicano,” Kolodny said.

Based on the indictment’s description of events, the most likely charge against the lawyer who sent Pellicano to Christensen would be aiding and abetting a crime, said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor.

In order to win a conviction, she said, federal prosecutors would have to show that a crime was committed, that the defendant “knowingly and intentionally aided, counseled, commanded, induced or procured the commission of the crime” and that his or her actions took place before the crime was completed.


“It is not enough that the defendant merely associated with the people committing the crime or unknowingly or unintentionally did things that were helpful to the principal” perpetrator of the crime, said the former federal prosecutor. “The evidence must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with the knowledge and intention of helping the commission of the crime.”

Attorneys for Wasser said they only recently learned of the government’s interest in their client.

“We believe that our client is innocent of any allegations similar to those that already have been brought,” said attorney Terry Bird, Marella’s partner. “We expect he will be fully vindicated of any charges that are brought. And we are certainly hoping and anticipating that charges will not be brought once the government has a full understanding of the case from our perspective.”

Times staff writer Robert W. Welkos contributed to this report.