LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Anthony Pellicano, once known as Hollywood’s private eye to the stars, was a man driven by greed and ambition who used wiretapping and bribery to fix problems for wealthy clients, a federal prosecutor told a Los Angeles jury on Thursday.
Making opening statements in a trial with a celebrity-heavy witness list that has kept Hollywood on tenterhooks for almost six years, prosecutor Kevin Lally said Pellicano ran a “thriving criminal enterprise.”
“This is a case about corruption in some of society’s most fundamental systems -- the police department, the telephone company and the legal system,” Lally said.
Lally said Pellicano’s targets ranged from rape victims to cheating spouses and a troublesome screenwriter.
The former private investigator, who is representing himself, told the jury he was a problem solver who had vast contacts with law enforcement and who was “loved” by his wealthy clients because he produced results.
“Primarily what I did was to serve clients in problem solving,” Pellicano, 63, said in his opening statement.
Pellicano is accused of wiretapping the telephones of opponents of his powerful clients and of bribing police officers and telephone company workers to run illegal background checks on the targets of his investigation.
He has already served jail time for weapons and explosives possession, but has pleaded not guilty along with his four co-defendants to the 111 federal charges they face together.
Lally said Pellicano “had out-sized ambitions only matched by out-sized desire for fame and fortune.” His computer and other security passwords included the word “omerta” -- the Sicilian Mafia word meaning silence.
Actors Sylvester Stallone, Keith Carradine and Farrah Fawcett, along with studio executives Brad Grey and Ron Meyer and former powerhouse talent agent Michael Ovitz, are among the 120 prosecution witnesses expected to testify in the 10-week trial.
Some of the witnesses, including Stallone, were targets of wiretaps; some worked for Pellicano and others agreed to testify after gaining immunity from prosecution, Lally said.
Grey, now CEO of Paramount Pictures and then a movie producer, was referred to Pellicano by his lawyer in 2001 during a legal dispute with a “Scary Movie” screenwriter, Lally said.
Pellicano has worked in the past for lawyers who represented Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor.
Most of his celebrity clients have denied knowing Pellicano was breaking the law but the investigation has already resulted in seven guilty pleas.
“Die Hard” director John McTiernan was sentenced to four months prison for lying to the FBI about having asked Pellicano to wiretap a producer with whom he worked on “Rollerball.”
Lally said Pellicano client Sandra Carradine has admitted the private detective wiretapped the phone of her ex-husband Keith Carradine during a child custody dispute. She has been cooperating with prosecutors.
The initial probe into Pellicano’s activities was sparked by an incident straight out of a Hollywood movie. In June 2002, Anita Busch, then a Los Angeles Times reporter, reported finding a dead fish, a rose and a note saying “STOP” on her car, which had had its windshield smashed.
According to court papers, Busch’s name had been raised in a conversation between Pellicano and Ovitz about what Ovitz believed were negative press stories about him at the time.