Hedge fund manager Adam Sender was angry -- at the man with whom he had invested $1.1 million and at himself for believing it would lead to a successful film company and another venture. So after a year of searching in vain for Aaron Russo, Sender hired private detective Anthony Pellicano.
"I'd like you to make this guy's life as miserable as possible for $200,000," Sender told Pellicano in a phone conversation -- secretly taped by the private eye according to federal prosecutors and played in court Tuesday. "I'm trusting you," Sender said later in the tape. "You have free rein."
In the federal courtroom where Pellicano and four co-defendants are charged with various counts of wiretapping and racketeering there has been plenty of testimony about what the government alleges is Pellicano's scheming with clients to get dirt on behalf of the angry ex-wife, the neurotic filmmaker, the burned benefactor.
Now comes the vindictive investor, Sender, who confirmed he spent $800,000 -- half a million to Pellicano, the rest to lawyers -- to recoup $1.1 million from Russo, a one-time manager of Bette Midler, who had a respectable career managing entertainers and producing movies then turned to politics in the 1990s. Russo died last year.
Sender testified Tuesday that Pellicano not only ran wiretaps on Russo but offered an even darker service.
"One of the scariest things I had was at a meeting at my house," Sender testified. "He said if I wanted to, I could authorize [Pellicano] to have him murdered him on his way back from Las Vegas. . . . He would have someone follow him in a car, force him off the road and bury his body in the desert."
Sender said he didn't take Pellicano up on the alleged offer.
During the testimony, Pellicano sat with his hand to his face, studying his ex-client, unfazed.
Acting as his own defense attorney (therefore required to refer to himself in the third person) Pellicano in his cross-examination suggested the conversation went differently: "Didn't Mr. Pellicano say to you, 'If you're spending all this money on Mr. Russo why don't you just have him killed?' "
"He might have phrased it that way," said Sender, his dark curly hair falling to the shoulders of his tailored dark suit. He is testifying under a "use immunity" agreement, in which his statements cannot be used against him in a criminal prosecution.
Not only did Sender testify that he knew Pellicano was wiretapping Russo and never reported it -- "I just went along with it unfortunately and I'm sorry I did" -- but he said he assumed his lawyer, David Moriarty, knew as well. "He had the same information I had so I assumed he knew where it was coming from," said Sender.
Sender sought the legal help of entertainment heavyweight Bert Fields but ended up represented by Moriarty -- who worked for Fields' law firm, Greenberg Glusker.
In other testimony, two ex-wives testified about alleged Pellicano wiretaps. Sandra Carradine testified that she hired Pellicano and knew he was wiretapping her ex-husband, actor Keith Carradine. Lisa Gores said she was on the receiving end of a wiretap during a period when she had an intimate relationship with Tom Gores, the brother of her husband, technology billionaire Alec Gores. Here's a clue your husband is having you investigated by a private detective, according to Lisa Gores' testimony: He brings up the name of a long-ago friend (whom you never mentioned.) And he suddenly asks if you were ever arrested. (You were -- with the friend.)
In a scenario that could have been lifted out of "Desperate Housewives," Gores, who was married to the businessman from 1993 to 2001, testified she thought she had been followed from the gates of her Mulholland Estates home atop Mulholland Drive. On another occasion, she said she was tailed as she left the Beverly Hills Hotel villa she and Tom Gores had briefly rented one evening during her marriage.
(There was such a profusion of Gores in the testimony that even the judge had to ask the prosecutor after he asked the former Mrs. Gores a question about Mr. Gores, "Which Mr. Gores?")
After the unnerving incident in early January 2001 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Lisa Gores called her husband, whom she believed was out of town, and asked if he was having her followed. He denied it, she testified. Then she had a phone conversation with Tom Gores.
"I told him there was a possibility we were being followed. I wanted to get all our ducks in order." She continued, "I think we were just both trying to figure out Alec's knowledge and deny it and comfort each other that we would deny it."
Later, she said, she learned that her husband had hired Pellicano to wiretap her conversations with his brother.
In contrast to the dramatic cast to her testimony, Gores' voice was as cool and muted as the sweater and slacks she wore and the dark Chanel bag she carried. Prosecutors whisked her in for an hour of testimony Tuesday afternoon, telling the court she had to leave for Europe the next day.
A thin woman with long blondish brown hair which she pushed back with a finger when it fell in her eyes, she recalled her own meeting with Pellicano.
"I was very nervous and scared of any of the tapes getting out," she said. She suddenly bowed over, her composure broken, her hair spilling over her face. Then she raised herself her back up and reached up for the box of tissues, now an ever-present feature on the judge's bench in a trial full of contrite, regretful and tormented witnesses.
She answered yes when prosecutor Kevin Lally asked if her relationship with her brother-in-law had been an affair. But, later, she bristled when defense attorney Adam Braun used the same word.
"I didn't sleep with my brother-in-law," she said.
Braun, defending co-defendant Kevin Kachikian, blinked. "You weren't sexually intimate with your brother-in-law?"
"To a degree," she said. She finally agreed she had had "sexual contact" with Tom Gores.
In a related matter, lawyers representing Terry Christensen -- an entertainment attorney who will be tried with Pellicano in a second proceeding later -- have filed a brief to force the Huffington Post to take down audio recordings related to the case provided by journalist Allison Hope Weiner, who is blogging daily from the trial. They also ask for a hearing on who leaked the tapes.
No date for the hearing has been set.