Hollywood braces as Pellicano trial opens

Thu Mar 6, 2008 3:32am EST
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By Leslie Simmons

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When federal authorities began investigating private investigator Anthony Pellicano six years ago, many in Hollywood held their breath.

Now as opening statements begin Thursday in a downtown Los Angeles federal courthouse in the wiretapping and racketeering case against the former celebrity sleuth, a few more gasps are likely. And given the potential witness list, a few more bombshells may be dropped.

Pellicano was the go-to guy when the rich and powerful -- including top industry executives and A-list clients -- needed to dig up dirt on an opponent. As prosecutors and law enforcement started sniffing around, it looked like the case against him would end up being a case against Hollywood.

So far, that hasn't happened. Instead, only a handful of those connected to Hollywood have been prosecuted because of their ties to Pellicano -- former Hollywood Records president Robert Pfeifer and "Die Hard" director John McTiernan. Both pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about their knowledge of Pellicano's wiretapping abilities but have yet to serve time in federal prison. McTiernan is currently appealing his guilty plea.

That's not to say Pellicano's relationship with Hollywood and his clients, which included Paramount Pictures chief Brad Grey, former talent agent Michael Ovitz, attorney Bert Fields and billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, won't be front and center in the trial, which began Wednesday with jury selection.

"It kind of frizzled a little bit from that perspective," Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said of the Hollywood connection. "But we could still learn a bit from trial."

The government casts Pellicano as a gumshoe who built a facade as a legitimate private investigator. But beneath the surface, he allegedly ran a racket that included employing a police detective, phone employees and others to provide him with confidential information.

Pellicano and four co-defendants -- who include a former Los Angeles police detective, two phone company employees and a former client -- are accused of wiretapping and illegally accessing the information of more than 100 people, including actor Keith Carradine, late producer Aaron Russo, producer Vincent "Bo" Zenga and former Hollywood Reporter editor and subsequent Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch.   Continued...

<p>Farrah Fawcett (L) is escorted by Anthony Pellicano as she leaves the courthouse after testifying against her former boyfriend, writer-director James Orr, in this August 12, 1998 file photo. Pellicano is accused of wiretapping and illegally accessing the information of more than 100 people. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>