Editor’s note: Rachel Abramowitz will be periodically checking in on the trial of Anthony Pellicano -- former private eye to the stars, who faces 110 counts of racketeering, wiretapping, conspiracy and other federal charges -- and writing about what the case means to Hollywood.
You could call it the “Pellicano wave,” the friendly shout-out that the onetime gumshoe gave to his former clients who testified against him last week. It was an utterly benign yoo-hoo that Anthony Pellicano, decked out in his green prison windbreaker, issued from the defendant’s chair to talent manager turned Paramount chieftain Brad Grey and Susan Maguire, the ex-wife of Robert F. Maguire III, the mega-developer who brought Los Angelenos such edifices as MGM Plaza and Pershing Square.
Despite facing 600 years in prison if convicted, Pellicano managed last week to be utterly deferential to those who paid his hefty wages. The second week of the trial featured not only the Paramount honcho but also various ex-spouses and ex-girlfriends of the rich and famous, Pellicano’s ex-assistant (and ex-girlfriend) and at least one rape victim. Pellicano has shown a courtly side to his former employers who benefited from his alleged skulduggery but face no prosecution themselves. To his former victims, Pellicano has adopted a curious cross-examination technique. He essentially asks them to repeat the charges laid out in the government case (but once more, with feeling!) Perhaps he wants the jury to truly remember just how scary he could be.
Pellicano declined to even cross-examine Grey, with whom he once developed an HBO pilot. On the stand, the unflappable mogul reiterated that he had no idea of Pellicano’s alleged shenanigans. Grey all but pointed the finger at mega-lawyer Bert Fields of the Greenberg Glusker firm as the primary on the Pellicano relationship. Fields brought the investigator in to aid with Grey’s lawsuit against his former client Garry Shandling. “Bert was very comfortable with him, so I was comfortable with him,” Grey said.
In both the Shandling suit and his later bitter legal warfare against writer-producer Bo Zenga, whose phones were tapped, Grey testified that he was too busy being a big important manager to pay close attention to how Fields was running Pellicano. He couldn’t recall if he and Fields ever discussed any illegal activity by Pellicano, saying, “It just would never come up.” (Fields has also denied any knowledge of Pellicano’s wrongdoing.) As he left the courthouse, Grey beamed.
In the case of , Pellicano was almost chivalrous. And why not? Over a three-year period, Mrs. Maguire paid him close to a million dollars in checks, cash and a pair of $100,000 diamond earrings for helping her in her divorce.
Pellicano’s first question to Madame Maguire: “Was Mr. Pellicano loyal?” The 60-ish former mogul’s wife acquiesced. Pellicano then pointed out that Mrs. Maguire had ultimately granted him limited power of attorney, and he wound up negotiating her divorce settlement. He ended his cross-examination with a rhetorical flourish -- noting that Mr. Pellicano “is still loyal to you now.”
Unfortunately such misplaced oaths of fealty were too late. Under the questioning of the government, Maguire had already offered incredibly damaging testimony. Testifying under an immunity deal, Maguire described how her lawyers at Fields’ firm suggested she hire Pellicano to hunt for her husband’s hidden assets. Still, she said she was slightly surprised when a giddy Pellicano called her up one day and urged her to come to his office. He then proceeded to slap on headphones and played her a tape of her ex-husband sobbing on the phone with his psychiatrist.
“It was awful, very upsetting to me,” she testified. She asked Pellicano whether the wiretapping was legal, and he said yes but giggled. He then asked her for an additional $40,000. Maguire then returned on 10 occasions to listen to more personal musings of her ex-husband and his live-in girlfriend. She continued to shell out money to Pellicano, practically any time he asked, including giving him a $200,000 loan to pay his taxes, which he never repaid.
Pellicano gave his purported victims rougher treatment, but it tended to backfire. Shandling’s ex-girlfriend Linda Doucett was one of Shandling’s associates whose personal records had been allegedly illegally accessed by Pellicano’s crony and co-defendant former LAPD officer Mark Arneson.
Under examination from the prosecution, Doucett (who played Darlene on “The Larry Saunders Show”) testified how she’d received a call one night in November 2002 in which the caller threatened that if she met with “Stan” ( FBI agent Stan Ornellas, who was investigating the Pellicano matter) or the press, “you won’t be seeing your child anymore, and he won’t be going to Saint Jeanne’s,” her son’s school.
Under Pellicano’s guidance, Doucett added details like how scared she was: “I locked my doors, kept my son with me and called a friend.” Who was that friend? “Michael Fuchs,” she answered, referring to the former HBO topper. She told how the FBI investigated, ultimately tracing the call to a warehouse in Pomona.
“Did the FBI tell you the phone call originated with Anthony Pellicano?” the former private eye asked, to which Doucett just responded, “You’re the only bad guy I’ve ever known.”
Pellicano even managed to elicit emotion from Gregory Dovel, writer-director Bo Zenga’s rather subdued lawyer. During their presentation, the prosecutors showed Dovel summaries of his phone calls with Zenga, which recorded everything from Zenga’s dog Buddy’s need for vitamins to detailed discussions of Dovel’s legal strategy.
At one point, Dovel is noted as saying “Thank God they didn’t have this info” during Zenga’s deposition. Pellicano apparently wanted to make sure the jury understood just how invasive it was to have privileged attorney-client conversations recorded, so the private eye asked Dovel how he felt when the government first showed him the summaries. “It was chilling,” said Dovel. “I had a hard time viewing it all.”
Undeniably, the specter of Bert Fields has been lingering over the trial. Either Fields or a member of his firm Greenberg Glusker led the legal charge against Zenga and Shandling and repped Maguire when she was dutifully listening to Pellicano’s wiretaps. No one from the law firm has been charged with wrongdoing. To repeat again, Fields has said he has no knowledge of Pellicano’s allegedly illegal activities. A lawyer representing the entire firm has dittoed that assertion.
So who knows why Pellicano was laboriously wiretapping, transcribing and summarizing Bo Zenga’s phone calls?
Judging from the first two weeks of testimony, that’s one question that Pellicano is not likely to ask the high-octane attorney who was one of his main Hollywood connections.
In fact, Fields -- who’s on the government witness list -- has only one thing to fear if he takes the stand in U.S. v. Pellicano:
His former private eye might just blow him kisses.