The government’s investigation of Anthony Pellicano yielded the first prison term for a major Hollywood figure Monday when a federal judge ordered director John McTiernan to spend four months behind bars for lying to the FBI about hiring the indicted private investigator.
With some stinging comments about McTiernan and what U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer described as his lack of contrition, she sentenced the 56-year-old director of hit films including “Die Hard” and “Predator” after denying his request to withdraw his guilty plea.
The long-running Pellicano investigation once thrust some of Hollywood’s biggest names into an unwanted spotlight, but only a few marquee names, McTiernan prominent among them, have been prosecuted, and no others have been sentenced. The trial of Pellicano and five others is scheduled to begin in February.
Last year, McTiernan acknowledged paying Pellicano $50,000 to wiretap film producer Charles Roven after their collaboration on the 2002 film “Rollerball.” The director also admitted that he misled an FBI agent who had telephoned him last year to ask about Pellicano, who is charged with wiretapping, conspiracy, racketeering and other crimes.
During the court hearing Monday, the judge revealed that McTiernan had hired Pellicano after learning that Roven, whose productions include “Batman Begins,” “Three Kings” and “Scooby-Doo,” had secured the rights to buy the film “Rollerball” during its production. The film turned out to be a box office flop.
With new counsel, McTiernan had sought to withdraw his guilty plea on the grounds that he was jet-lagged and under the influence of alcohol and medications when he was questioned by the agent. McTiernan’s attorneys also insisted that their client did not understand the consequences of denying his involvement with Pellicano and that his lie, although serious, did not rise to the level of a crime and should not have been charged as a felony.
“What he is asking for is his day in court,” attorney Cornell Price told the judge.
But Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said McTiernan’s recent claims “don’t do anything to put in doubt this defendant’s [previous] statements in this court, under oath, that he knew” he had lied to the FBI.
Saunders added that McTiernan’s comments, combined with other evidence, suggest that the director had not only used Pellicano to wiretap Roven but also had employed the private investigator years earlier during a bitter and highly publicized divorce from his then-wife, Donna Dubrow.
“This wasn’t the first one,” Saunders said. “This wasn’t the first time.”
Dubrow filed an invasion-of-privacy suit more than a year ago alleging that during “extremely contentious” divorce proceedings after the couple’s separation in the summer of 1997, McTiernan hired Pellicano for more than $100,000 to wiretap her and record her phone conversations so he could obtain a “tactical advantage.”
McTiernan’s lawyers also argued that the FBI all but entrapped their client to mislead them about his use of Pellicano because the wire-tapping that he admitted occurred outside the five-year statute of limitations for that crime.
But Saunders rejected the argument that others were to blame for McTiernan’s predicament.
“What we have seen is an attempt to blame the agent. . . the prosecutors. . . the prior attorney,” Saunders said. “This defendant still doesn’t get it, your honor.”
The judge said McTiernan’s actions were not those of a person sorry for his crime or eager to help the government, as his plea agreement required. To the contrary, she said, McTiernan had the demeanor of someone “still incensed” that he was ever charged in the case.
“He has shown no remorse, just excuses,” the judge said.
Responding to defense claims that McTiernan would never have agreed to plead guilty if he’d had better legal advice earlier in the case, Fischer also said there was no evidence that he had received inadequate counsel before hiring new attorneys.
Fischer also billed as “patently absurd” defense claims that McTiernan’s wife and family would struggle to maintain their Wyoming ranch.
Noting that McTiernan is worth an estimated $8.5 million, the judge said she did not worry that a brief prison term would put his family out any more than a film shoot would.
And the judge rejected claims by McTiernan’s attorneys that he has suffered from depression and that his crime did not justify a prison sentence.
“He will certainly not be the only depressed man in custody,” she said.
Outside court, McTiernan’s attorneys said they would immediately seek an appeal of the judge’s ruling and sentence, which included a $100,000 fine.
“We respectfully think that the court got it wrong,” attorney S. Todd Neal said.
Added defense lawyer Milton Grimes: “I am somewhat stunned. . . . I just don’t see locking a person like this up.”
Late Monday, prosecutors Saunders and Kevin Lally issued a written statement. “The integrity of our justice system depends upon people telling the truth,” they said. “Mr. McTiernan failed to do so, and as a consequence, he will be spending four months in federal prison.”
McTiernan is the second person sentenced in the long-running federal case. In March, convicted con man Daniel Nicherie was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison; he had pleaded guilty to using the former private eye to wiretap a Beverly Hills businessman as part of a fraud scheme.
McTiernan was ordered to surrender his passport and turn himself in to authorities by Jan. 15 to begin serving his time.