Reaching for the first time into the upper ranks of Hollywood’s legal establishment, the federal grand jury investigating private eye Anthony Pellicano indicted prominent Los Angeles entertainment attorney Terry N. Christensen on Wednesday for allegedly having the ex-wife of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian wiretapped.
Christensen paid Pellicano $100,000 to listen in on Lisa Bonder Kerkorian’s phone calls to her attorneys and to share the information with Christensen, Kerkorian’s longtime lawyer and business partner, to give him a tactical edge in a bitter child support case in 2002, the grand jury alleged.
The indictment, which also charges Pellicano with two new counts of conspiracy and wiretapping, quotes liberally from extended taped conversations prosecutors have seized from the private detective’s files. “There is no way, except with my unique techniques, that you would know this,” Pellicano told Christensen as they discussed a wiretap April 27, 2002, the indictment alleges.
Christensen, 65, is one of a dozen people who have been charged so far in an ever-broadening FBI probe into the alleged bribery of law enforcement officers, high-tech eavesdropping, blackmail, witness intimidation and other bids to corrupt the judicial system. The inquiry began more than three years ago, but sources said Christensen was only notified in the last month that he was a target.
In an indictment last week, Pellicano was accused of wiretapping or conducting illegal background checks on dozens of celebrities and business executives, including actor Sylvester Stallone, comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, and real estate developer Robert Maguire. Pellicano has pleaded not guilty and is being held in federal custody without bond.
Christensen, best known as lawyer for Kerkorian, one of the nation’s richest people and a Hollywood fixture for more than 30 years, has helped the enigmatic billionaire oversee a vast empire that includes the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels and, until last year, the MGM studio.
The attorney has been at the center of other nasty Hollywood fights, including producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters’ dispute with Warner Bros. that led to their hiring by Columbia Pictures.
The Pellicano investigation, with its hints of celebrity secrets and skulduggery in executive suites, has long concerned Los Angeles’ legal and entertainment circles. But the Christensen indictment brings the Hollywood angle into sharper focus.
Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, a 40-year-old former tennis pro who was married to Kerkorian for one month, was seeking $320,000 a month in support from her husband to pay for private jet flights, hotel accommodations, horses and parties for her then 4-year-old daughter, Kira, whose paternity was in dispute. Multimillionaire film producer Steve Bing later sued Kirk Kerkorian for allegedly hiring someone to dig through his trash for dental floss to prove — through DNA evidence — that he was Kira’s father.
Colleagues said they were stunned by Christensen’s indictment. They insisted he never participated in wiretapping and said he only turned to Pellicano to investigate death threats and extortion attempts against Kirk Kerkorian and Kira that arose during the child support fight.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s developments,” said attorney Jan Handzlik, one of three lawyers defending Christensen in the Pellicano case. “It is clear to us, that the U.S. attorney did not take the time to learn who Terry Christensen really is or to understand the context in which these events occurred.”
In a statement, Kerkorian, now 88 said, “Terry Christensen is a paragon of integrity who has always done the right thing throughout the 35 years I have had the privilege of knowing him.”
Patricia Glaser, Christensen’s law partner, said in a statement that her colleague had reported the threats to the police, the district attorney and Los Angeles County child protective services. “We expect Mr. Christensen to be fully vindicated,” the statement said.
Spokespersons for the Los Angeles Police Department and the district attorney’s office said they could not immediately find any record of Christensen’s reports.
Asst. U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said Christensen used wiretaps only to gain a tactical advantage.
“Patricia Glaser has not heard the evidence, and we believe it will thoroughly refute any contention that this wiretap was implemented for any purpose other than because of litigation,” Saunders said.
Christensen, a Beverly Hills resident, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Also Wednesday, authorities arrested and charged an SBC employee — Joann Wiggan, 52, of Burbank. She was charged with perjury for allegedly lying to the grand jury about her knowledge of a colleague’s role in wiretapping.
According to the indictment, the Lisa Kerkorian wiretapping began March 15, 2002, when an unnamed attorney called Pellicano and told him to contact Christensen about “going after” the wife’s attorney, Stephen A. Kolodny. Kolodny had referred Christensen to the state bar for possible discipline for contacting Lisa Kerkorian without her attorney present.
In an April 18 conversation, Pellicano told Christensen he listened in on a conversation between Lisa Kerkorian and her attorneys that could help Christensen with a court hearing, the indictment alleges.
Four days later, the indictment says, Pellicano told Christensen about a wiretapped call between Lisa Kerkorian and her attorneys and warned Christensen to “be very careful about this, because there is only one way for me to know this.”
On April 28, Pellicano told Christensen he had intercepted a conversation in which Lisa Kerkorian discussed the identity of her child’s biological father with her lawyers, the indictment adds. Pellicano also told Christensen, “I’m hearing her talk to Kirk too. That’s not for attribution, I mean for distribution, but I’m hearing both of them, I’m hearing all of it, the whole nine yards.”
Less than a month later, Bing filed a $1-billion-plus invasion-of-privacy lawsuit against Kirk Kerkorian. Kerkorian’s paternity was disproved, and Bing and the mogul later resolved their differences without publicly disclosing who the father was.
Christensen’s firm, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, has a broad practice that reaches beyond the entertainment community and includes a number of other prominent attorneys, including Robert Shapiro, a member of O.J. Simpson’s defense team. Also in the firm are Glaser, who represented a film company suing actress Kim Basinger for spurning a role in the film “Boxing Helena,” and Louis R. “Skip” Miller, who has represented a number of government agencies, including the city of Los Angeles.
Miller cemented his relationship with the city by defending it against civil litigation filed over the 1991 Rodney G. King beating case. The firm also represented then-Councilman Nate Holden in a sexual harassment case and the city of Beverly Hills in a complicated racial-profiling case in the mid-1990s.
Christensen’s attorneys say it’s absurd to think that a partner in such a prestigious firm would wiretap an opponent in a child support case.
“This was not some complicated tactical litigation,” said Terree Bowers, who was U.S. attorney in Los Angeles from 1992 to 1994. “This was just a modification for child support, for crying out loud. What are the great revelations you are going to get” in a wiretap?
“Terry Christensen never heard wiretapped conversations. He never got a transcript of a wiretapped conversation,” said Handzlik, another former federal prosecutor. “All he had to go on was what Pellicano was telling him over the phone.”
Times staff writers Hemmy So and Peter Y. Hong contributed to this report.*
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`Obviously, They Don’t Know I Know’
A federal grand jury accused attorney Terry Christensen and disgraced private eye Anthony Pellicano of wiretapping Lisa Bonder Kerkorian during her bitter child support dispute with billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. Christensen allegedly paid Pellicano to do the wiretapping. The indictment includes liberal quotes from taped conversations that federal authorities seized from the detective’s computer files:
April 22, 2002: Pellicano tells Christensen about a wiretapped phone call between Lisa Kerkorian and her attorneys and warns Christensen to “be very careful about this, because there is only one way for me to know this.”
April 27, 2002: Pellicano relates Lisa Kerkorian’s discussion with her lawyers about their settlement position “quoting to defendant Christensen [her] ‘exact words.’ ”
April 27, 2002: Pellicano tells Christensen about Kerkorian’s conversation with her father, reminding him “there is no way, except with my unique techniques, that you would know this.”
April 28, 2002: Pellicano tells Christensen that he was “hearing both sides, you know, I’m hearing her talk to Kirk too. That’s not for attribution, I mean for distribution, but I’m hearing both of them, I’m hearing all of it, the whole nine yards.”
April 29, 2002: Pellicano assures Christensen, “I know everything that’s going on, and obviously they don’t know I know.”
May 3, 2002: Pellicano tells Christensen about a conversation between Lisa Kerkorian and her attorney that was “worth its weight in gold.”
May 8, 2002: Christensen tells Pellicano he likes what he’s hearing and is thinking about sending “a little more expense money” to cover the cost of the wiretap.
May 15, 2002: Christensen tells Pellicano to “wrap up” the wiretap.
May 16, 2002: Christensen tells Pellicano he has been “great,” and the private investigator confirms that “the switch gets shut.”
Source: U.S. attorney’s office