LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In the most dramatic day of testimony to date, former Hollywood powerbroker Michael Ovitz and former entertainment reporter Anita Busch took the stand Wednesday in the government’s wiretapping and racketeering trial against private eye Anthony Pellicano.
Both had ties to Pellicano and to each other: Ovitz, the client; Busch, the alleged victim.
Ovitz told a reasoned, straightforward story about why he hired a gumshoe to gather dirt on his detractors; Busch gave a riveting account of her reactions to months of intimidation, which she says originated with the former uber-agent.
Pellicano, 63, has pleaded not guilty to wiretapping telephones and bribing police and telephone company officials on a vast scale to run illegal checks on those causing trouble for his rich and famous clients. He could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
Ovitz took the stand first, wearing a dark blue suit with a lavender-gray tie, and unapologetically told the jury that he hired Pellicano in 2002 to dig up “embarrassing” things on Busch and New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub. Busch, former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, was freelancing for the Times and with Weinraub penned stories about Ovitz’s troubled Artists Management Group.
Ovitz considered the stories damaging to his company, which at the time was the subject of three lawsuits. Ovitz also wanted to sell the outfit and felt the bad press would influence top bidders the Firm and Paradigm.
When asked why he wanted to find embarrassing information on the reporters, Ovitz told the jury, “It was an extraordinarily difficult time for the company and me. We had several hundred employees, we had clients and we were in a constant state of negative press fueled by lies and innuendoes,” he said.
He added, “It was wildly embarrassing to myself and my family. All I wanted was a graceful exit from the business and to leave people with jobs.”
Ovitz said he also wanted to find out who was the source of information for the writers. On cross-examination by defense attorney Chad Hummel, who represents former Los Angeles Police Department officer Mark Arneson, Ovitz reluctantly said he believed Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer, his former partner in Creative Artists Agency, and DreamWorks principal David Geffen were behind the leaks.
“I wanted to know when I was going to be ambushed. I wanted to know when the next shoe was going to drop,” he said. “(Pellicano) told me I had a huge problem with Ron Meyer. I told him I would pay him whatever he wanted if he could solve that problem.”
After Ovitz’s polished and well-prepared testimony, Busch recalled computer viruses, phone problems and what she considered two death threats against her during the time of the Ovitz stories.
After those series of stories, she was hired by the Los Angeles Times to report on the entertainment industry. Soon after, Busch testified, on June 20, 2002, she was alerted by a neighbor to look at her car. The windshield was smashed and on the driver’s side she saw a large baking pan and a package with a white note with the word “Stop” on it. The police were called and a bomb squad cleared the neighborhood, believing it was a suspicious package. It turned out to be a dead fish and a red rose.
“I was stunned,” Busch said.
The second incident happened two months later, after Busch had returned from being in quasi-hiding. As she was going to her car, Busch described hearing a motor rev and seeing a dark Mercedes-Benz speed toward her. The windows were tinted so she couldn’t see the driver, and there were no plates.
Breaking into sobs and shaking, Busch said she knew she was the target and jumped into her rental car. The Mercedes pulled up to her and a man “with a sickening smile” told her to roll down her window. She said she doesn’t remember doing it, but she complied, rolling it down an inch.
As she told her story, Busch gripped an imaginary steering wheel in front of her and said, “I remember thinking I was going to die. I thought, ‘This is how it ends. I‘m going to die in front of this apartment building.”’ The car soon drove off, after the man made a sort of “bye-bye” gesture with his middle and index finger.
She later testified learning from the phone company that her line had been “half-tapped.”
On cross-examination by Pellicano (who is representing himself at the trial) and Hummel, Busch said that at the time of the threats she was working on a series of stories for the Times about actor Steven Seagal.
Busch, however, was firm on her beliefs that the threats against her were a result of Ovitz and not Seagal.
“I know that he hired Anthony Pellicano and the evidence points to Mike Ovitz,” said Busch, who has filed a civil lawsuit against Ovitz and Pellicano.
As Pellicano made his way to the podium, Busch became visibly shaken. She leaned forward on the witness stand, rested her elbows down in front of her and clasped her hands over her mouth.
Throughout the questioning, the journalist, surrounded by two boxes of tissues, had to compose herself again and again as Pellicano peppered her with more questions about the August 2002 car incident.
Busch testified that when she was initially threatened in June 2002, she met with her Times editor and the paper’s general counsel, Karlene Goller. Busch said Goller suggested hiring Pellicano to find out who made the threat.
Looking at Pellicano, Busch said, “The lawyer suggested calling you.” There were guffaws in the courtroom.
Weinraub also testified and on cross from Pellicano said he never received any threats during that time.