May 15, 2008 / 7:44 PM / in 10 years

CORRECTION: Hollywood private eye convicted in wiretap

(Corrects 13th paragraph to say Pellicano hired associate to leave dead fish on car; he did not do it himself)

Private detective Anthony Pellicano is shown in this 1993 file photo. Pellicano was convicted on May 15, 2008 of racketeering after a high-profile two-month trial that featured testimony from Hollywood celebrities. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Anthony Pellicano, known as Hollywood’s private eye to the stars, was convicted on Thursday of running a vast criminal enterprise involving wiretapping and bribery to fix the problems of his wealthy clients.

After a two month trial that exposed the seamy side of the movie industry and featured a celebrity-heavy witness list, a Los Angeles federal jury convicted Pellicano on all but one of the 77 charges against him.

His four co-defendants, including a former police officer, a telephone company official and a computer expert who designed the sophisticated “Telesleuth” wiretapping device, were found guilty on most of the dozens of charges they faced.

Pellicano, 64, who pleaded not guilty and conducted his own rambling defense dressed in prison clothes, is expected to spend the rest of his life behind bars when he is sentenced in September. He has already served time for weapons and explosives possession.

The veteran private investigator, who once worked for lawyers representing Tom Cruise, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, presented himself as the ultimate problem solver.

He was charged with racketeering — under U.S. laws originally used against the Mafia — and with wiretapping and unlawfully obtaining information about troublesome foes.

Movie stars Chris Rock and Garry Shandling, and Paramount Pictures chief executive Brad Grey and former Walt Disney Co president Michael Ovitz were among a string of witnesses who testified they hired Pellicano, or were spied on by him, during disputes ranging from cheating spouses and paternity lawsuits to show business contracts.

The prospect of the trial had kept Hollywood abuzz for years but all of those testifying said they were unaware of any illegal activities by Pellicano, and none was charged.

“What the trial showed was that a lot of these Hollywood people have their own little infighting and that they were at best willing to turn a blind eye to some legal indiscretions. But I don’t think that was shocking to anybody in L.A.,” Rebecca Lanergan, a former federal prosecutor, told Reuters.

Pellicano called a single witness in his defense. He argued that his work differed little from any other investigative agency — or even, he suggested, the work of journalists.

Prosecutors said his computer password included the word “omerta” — the Sicilian Mafia word meaning silence, and Pellicano revealed nothing about his clients.

Ovitz testified that he hired Pellicano in 2002 to investigate journalists writing negative stories about him, but said he never told the private detective to threaten anyone or use wiretapping.

Prosecutors say Pellicano hired an associate who in June 2002 left a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a note saying “Stop” on the shattered car windshield of Los Angeles Times investigative journalist Anita Busch.

Busch’s complaint to police triggered a raid on Pellicano’s Hollywood office that eventually led to his trial.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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