Pellicano briefly outlines his case

Times Staff Writer

In his first opportunity to rebut charges that could put him away for life, private eye Anthony Pellicano on Thursday sidestepped the government’s allegations that he was the heart and soul of a wiretapping and racketeering ring that empowered celebrities and other well-heeled clients to “discredit and in some cases destroy” their adversaries.

Instead, the enigmatic former investigator, acting as his own attorney, told the packed courtroom of U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer that his successful business “served clients in problem solving” for years.

“That is what [I] was paid for,” Pellicano said, “gathering information.”


“The evidence will show what it shows,” Pellicano added cryptically during his brief remarks.

The surprising statements by the 63-year-old Pellicano came after Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin M. Lally, in opening remarks, told the eight-man, four-woman jury that Pellicano and his codefendants accessed telephone company records and police files, intimidated witnesses and exploited the justice system for years -- all for personal gain.

“This is a case about corruption in some of society’s most fundamental institutions . . . corruption fueled by greed,” Lally said. “And at the center of this corruption was Anthony Pellicano.”

The self-described private investigator to the stars, Pellicano was not like a “pulp fiction” gumshoe who ekes out a living scrambling from one hard-luck client to the next, Lally said.

On the contrary, the prosecutor told the jury, Pellicano charged $25,000 nonrefundable deposits from people who could pay a “premium price” to win lawsuits, child custody battles or business disputes or for defense against serious criminal charges. And to cinch those victories, Lally alleged, Pellicano routinely used what the prosecutor called the “gold standard” of confidential information: illegal wiretaps.

Outlining nearly a dozen civil and criminal court cases in which Pellicano allegedly used illegal techniques, Lally told the court that the detective paid co-defendant Mark Arneson, a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, at least $180,000 to access confidential police records for dirt on people. Lally said he paid another defendant, former SBC field technician Ray Turner, $30,000 to help set up wiretaps of targets.

Those targets, Lally said, included journalists who had written negative stories about star agent Michael Ovitz and women who had accused Los Angeles businessman John Gordon Jones of rape, charges on which he was acquitted in 2001.

A cornerstone of the enterprise, the prosecutor said, was a digital recording system -- dubbed “TeleSleuth” -- designed by Kevin Kachikian, another codefendant. To keep its contents from intruders and law enforcement, Lally said, the software was loaded with “booby traps” that could erase the content if someone attempted to access it. The software was protected by a password that was uniquely Pellicano: Omerta, the Sicilian word for a code of silence.

To prove its case over the coming weeks, Lally said, the government will produce not only documents and witnesses confirming the enterprise but also recordings of Pellicano speaking to clients about his investigative techniques.

“You will learn,” Lally said, in a thinly veiled jab at the private eye, “that Mr. Pellicano was the biggest government informant in this case.”

In his brief remarks, Pellicano insisted that the sophisticated recording devices in his offices were secured to protect his work product and that he recorded his conversations with clients only to keep a safe and accurate inventory of the 50 or more work calls he received every day.

Pellicano also backed up claims by Kachikian, the computer whiz, that he was an innocent in the private eye’s alleged conspiracy.

Kachikian’s attorney, Adam Braun, said that his client, a self-taught computer prodigy, always believed that he was creating a legitimate wiretapping program that could be sold to law enforcement agencies. “He had no idea it was going to be misused, if it was, on wiretaps,” Braun said.

Pellicano bolstered this contention by telling the jury that he, and not his codefendant, was the “sole creator” of all the recording systems used in the business.

Chad Hummel, attorney for former LAPD sergeant Arneson, conceded that his client clearly “crossed the line” by providing police records to Pellicano. But he did so, Hummel said, only because Pellicano was a long-trusted informant who over the years had provided the LAPD sergeant with valuable tips on organized crime, drug rings and other criminal operations.

Pellicano paid Arneson for security work, not database searches, and the sergeant had no idea what Pellicano intended to do with the information, Hummel said.

“The evidence will show he didn’t do it for corrupt purposes,” Hummel said. “He did it to pursue legitimate law enforcement” investigations.

Later in the day, the first of what’s expected to be a parade of government witnesses took the stand. Former baseball star Matt Williams recalled paying the private investigator $25,000 in December 2001 to investigate his ex-wife. Pellicano then broached the subject of also wiretapping Williams’ current spouse, the ballplayer testified.

In a recording played in court, Pellicano asked Williams how many phone lines were in the residence and warned the all-star player that it was important to keep quiet if he decided to authorize wiretaps. “I have been doing this for 30 years and I have never had a problem with it,” Pellicano says.

“Did you take him up on his offer?” prosecutor Dan Saunders asked Williams.

“No,” the former baseball player answered.

“Why not?” Saunders asked.

“It’s illegal,” Williams said.