A Valencia businessman admitted Friday to conspiring with Anthony Pellicano to illegally dig up information about a teenager who had accused him of sexual assault, becoming the latest witness cooperating in the federal probe of the indicted private eye.
“I hired Mr. Pellicano because he told me he could listen in” to the young woman’s phone calls, a shaken George Kalta, 37, told U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, as he entered his guilty plea. “That was the only reason I hired Mr. Pellicano.”
The plea makes Kalta the fourth person to acknowledge that they hired -- or helped -- Pellicano to illegally investigate others using wiretaps, confidential police record searches or other methods.
Once one of Los Angeles’ best-known private investigators, Pellicano is at the center of a wide-ranging FBI investigation that has shaken Hollywood and its legal community. To date, 13 people have been charged, including an entertainment attorney, a record company executive, two former police officers accused of selling him confidential data and several telephone company employees.
Without exception, the many attorneys and celebrities who hired Pellicano over the years have said since his indictment that they were unaware that his alleged hardball tactics may have crossed the line into lawlessness.
But criminal defense attorney Leslie Abramson, representing Kalta, said outside court on Friday that Pellicano bragged to her client about listening in on other people’s conversations and about having connections within law enforcement. The connections included “a contact” in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and a police officer who he said could get him a district attorney’s memo for $5,000.
“He bragged about how he did this [wiretapping] for other clients,” Abramson said. “He said that is why people pay him so much.”
Abramson said Pellicano also boasted of his celebrity clients, including Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson.
Kalta, owner of a lighting manufacturing company, was charged by the district attorney’s office in early 2002 with sexual battery by restraint and false imprisonment.
County prosecutors said his victim was an 18-year-old woman who was assaulted in October 2001, when she was making a delivery to Kalta’s Canoga Park store.
Kalta eventually pleaded guilty to felony assault without a deadly weapon and was granted probation. The charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor and dismissed, Abramson said.
During Friday’s federal court hearing, Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin Lally said authorities could prove that Kalta hired Pellicano on Oct. 17, 2001, to investigate his accuser and to listen to the woman’s telephone conversations. Kalta paid Pellicano $50,000 for the information.
Outside court, Abramson said her client went to Pellicano after searching the Internet for a private investigator who could help prove his innocence.
She said Kalta later began to suspect that Pellicano was bugging his telephone because on four separate occasions between March and May of 2002, the investigator called Kalta right after Kalta spoke with Abramson. “Every single time we had a conversation about Pellicano, as soon as we hung up, he would call George and badmouth me,” she said.
The events outlined by Abramson parallel those of another criminal defendant who also hired Pellicano and was represented by attorney Danny Davis. Davis represented Kalta before Abramson.
Last year, Abramson said, federal prosecutors played her and her client a recorded conversation in which Pellicano urged Kalta not to fire another attorney in order to hire Abramson. “He said I was not a lawyer he could trust,” Abramson said.
Kalta, however, hired Abramson, who brought in another private investigator.
After that, Abramson said, Kalta found the locks in his office glued shut. One of the doors had a knife jammed into a keyhole.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Dan Saunders said he could not discuss evidence in the case that had not yet been made public. Pellicano’s attorney, Steven Gruel, could not be reached for comment.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney said she was unaware of claims that Pellicano had a contact within the office and urged anyone with information to come forward.
Davis’ attorney, Harland Braun, disputed the notion that Pellicano had any special relationship with Davis. He said Davis became involved in the two cases after Pellicano had been hired.
Without disputing that her client broke the law, Abramson said Kalta was hardly the most important figure in the Pellicano investigation.
“There are much bigger fish to fry,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, George is a minnow.”