While his defense lawyer watched, intent but helpless to stop it, former Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Mark Arneson underwent an eviscerating cross-examination on Wednesday at the federal trial of private detective Anthony Pellicano.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders accused Arneson, charged with racketeering and running hundreds of unauthorized inquiries into databases, of drawing a monthly paycheck from Pellicano for those computer checks on department time, lying about why he did the checks and lying about filing a bankruptcy petition.
Arneson, one of Pellicano’s four co-defendants, admitted on the stand last week that he did the unauthorized computer checks for the private investigator. He also said he knows now that he did “cross the line.” But he insisted he took no money for that. He said Pellicano paid him for providing surveillance, bodyguard services and consulting.
Saunders spent hours flinging at Arneson inconsistencies between what he has said and what documents indicate.
For example, Arneson had testified Friday that while he was investigating accused bookmaker Eric Portocarrero, (who later pleaded no contest to two felony charges) Pellicano was helping the police by luring Portocarrero’s brother to the U.S. from Peru.
But Saunders played a phone call that Pellicano secretly taped of his conversation with the brother, Jan Portocarrero. In the conversation, Pellicano warns him he’s in “a lot of . . . trouble” and counsels “if I were you, I would stay right where you are and figure this out.”
Saunders asked Arneson: “Wasn’t the true nature of the relationship not that he was providing you with information, but that you were providing him with information on organized crime that he could sell to his clients?”
Arneson denied that.
Saunders jumped on Arneson’s earlier contention that the $2,500-a-month retainer Pellicano paid him was only for security consulting.
“That’s not true, is it sir?” Saunders said.
“I have no idea what you mean,” Arneson replied.
Saunders then showed the court copies of checks Pellicano wrote to Arneson’s business, Mark Enterprises, in varying amounts that detailed on the memo lines the hours worked and sometimes the name of the job. Then, he whipped out photocopy after photocopy of checks -- each for $2,500 -- made out personally to Arneson from Pellicano, offering little notation beside “outside services.”
Saunders asked again and again, “Can you tell me or the jury what if any legitimate work you did for that check?”
“I have no idea,” Arneson answered several times.
During a break in the proceedings, private investigator John Nazarian, a frequent observer at the trial, shook his head. “All I’ve got to say is if he’d been a horse, they would have put him out of his misery.”
That said, over a total of five hours on the stand, Arneson stayed surprisingly composed. By comparison, previous witnesses, facing fewer hours of questioning and fewer years in prison, have been reduced to weeping puddles reaching for the tissue on the judge’s bench.
Saunders also battered Arneson with questions about a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition filed in his name in 1998 as his Rancho Palos Verdes home was threatened with foreclosure. Arneson remained resolute to the end that he didn’t file the petition, which fraudulently stated his profession and income. Saunders presented evidence to the contrary -- including Arneson’s name, his signature and his Social Security number on the document.
“That was not you?” Saunders asked.
“It’s not my signature,” Arneson said.