LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Obsession and deceit dominated testimony and audiotape played Tuesday in the trial of so-called private eye to the stars Anthony Pellicano and four others as prosecutors called up a well-known Hollywood producer and a former record executive as witnesses.
Mosaic Media Group partner Chuck Roven was among the first witnesses of the day in the wiretapping and racketeering case, testifying about his “cordial” relationship with director John McTiernan and their collaboration on “Rollerball.”
The movie, released by MGM in 2002, was a box office blunder. Made on a $70 million budget, it grossed $25 million worldwide. But all the while, it turns out, McTiernan was paying Pellicano to tap the producer’s phone.
“I was one of the producers on it, and (McTiernan) had a tremendous amount of physical and creative control,” Roven said. “And, as it sometimes happens, in our case, I had a different creative concept.”
McTiernan, he added, didn’t even have a good handle on how to execute his own creative concepts. (McTiernan, who also directed “Die Hard,” was sentenced to four months in prison for lying to the FBI.)
Prosecutor Dan Saunders then pulled up on the overhead projector a “report” compiled by Pellicano’s investigative agency in summer 2000, when “Rollerball” was being filmed.
The first page consisted of several phone numbers related to Roven, including one number he said only two people had: Roven’s wife and their nanny.
The report also outlined phone conversations Roven had with several associates, including Alex Gartner, who was then president of production at MGM and now is a producer for Mosaic; talent agent Dan Aloni; and Steve Papazian, president of physical production at Warner Bros., who talked with Roven about “Scooby-Doo.”
Saunders then played for the jury an audiotape of Pellicano and McTiernan discussing Roven and his phone calls. Roven, who was subdued during his testimony, leaned back in the witness chair as he listened to the recording and rested his face in his left hand. Sometimes, he would scan the courtroom, looking at the jury, who were closely following the transcript of the conversation.
On the tape, Pellicano joked that he was getting an education in the film industry and told McTiernan, “I don’t like the way they talk about you.”
Pellicano repeatedly complained about how boring some of Roven’s calls were and that his services were going to get more expensive because of the volume of calls recorded.
“There’s tons of stuff,” Pellicano told McTiernan. “Let me say to you, there’s nothing to concern yourself with.”
“Basically, I’d like to know what he’s saying to the studio,” McTiernan responded.
McTiernan told the private eye to end his surveillance. Pellicano cautioned McTiernan that taking “all this stuff down” and putting it back up costs money.
“I would do his house,” Pellicano suggested. “He does all his work at home.”
Throughout Roven’s appearance on the stand, Pellicano — who is representing himself during the trial — was attentive, taking notes and occasionally looking at the producer, but he declined to cross-examine him.
Pellicano, 63, has pleaded not guilty to wiretapping the telephones of his clients’ opponents and bribing police and telephone company officials to run illegal background checks.
The investigator who once worked for lawyers representing Tom Cruise, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
The recording was the second of the day played for the jury.
The first was a conversation between veteran Hollywood criminal defense attorney Peter Knecht and Pellicano. The former private eye had contacted Knecht about his own client, Bilal Baroody, who owed $300,000 to Universal Studios president Ron Meyer. At first, Pellicano wouldn’t tell Knecht who his client was, then later told him it was Meyer who hired him to collect the debt.
At one point, Pellicano fielded a call from Mark Arneson, who at the time was an Los Angeles police sergeant and now is a co-defendant in the case. Pellicano kept Knecht on the phone as he gave Baroody’s information to Arneson to run, then quickly returned to Knecht, telling him Baroody was “with the wrong person.” “Who,” Knecht asked, “Ron Meyer?” “No. Me,” Pellicano said, adding that he’d tell Meyer “you were instrumental in getting things worked out.”
“I’m not interested in scoring Brownie points,” Knecht responded.
Perhaps the most riveting tale told so far to the court came with the back-to-back testimony by former Hollywood Records president Robert Pfeifer and his ex-girlfriend, Erin Finn.
Pfeifer is the first witness to take the stand who has pleaded guilty in the case. He admitted to aiding and abetting Pellicano in wiretapping Finn but has yet to be released. He testified that he hopes that in exchange for his testimony, prosecutors will recommend a reduced sentence, that U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer, who is presiding over the trial and Pfeifer’s case, will see he is sorry for what he did. He also hoped his testimony would bring some redemption.
Pfeifer painted a picture of himself as a man obsessed with his ex-girlfriend, who he learned during their relationship was a paid escort.
He testified that during the course of six months, he paid Pellicano $225,000 to advise him in his legal battles with Finn and his former employer, video game company Z Access. Of that amount, $100,000 was paid to the private eye when Pfeifer signed power of attorney over to Pellicano. The former exec explained that he did so because he was ill at the time and not in the right mind-set when it came to Finn.
After the couple’s breakup, Finn was deposed in a wrongful-termination lawsuit he filed against Z Access and testified at the time that he was taking drugs, including methamphetamines.
Pfeifer admitted on the stand that he took “speed” and that he was upset that Finn had testified about his drug use and wanted to retaliate against her. He also felt “betrayed” by her and admitted he was obsessed about her. Prior to hiring Pellicano, he had hired a man to hack into her computer; he sent e-mails to all her contacts that included a virus and details of Finn’s escort business.
Pellicano tapped Finn’s phone for him, he told the jury, and he became involved in three lawsuits against her to try to persuade her to recant her testimony.
“He had checked me out and heard I was cool,” Pfeifer said of Pellicano. “And he was going to do a super special job for me that he didn’t want to talk about around the lawyers.”
Pfeifer said Pellicano elaborated by saying: “ ‘Finn won’t be able to use a roll of toilet paper without me knowing.’ I took that to be pretty special surveillance.”
Throughout his testimony, Pfeifer’s voice remained low, often breathy and nervous. He apologized several times for his behavior during that time.
“Why are you ashamed?” Arneson’s attorney Chad Hummel asked him.
“The entire mind-set of attacking that way, breaking someone’s privacy and things I find immoral,” Pfeifer responded. “I caused that to happen. I paid him to wiretap.” He later broke down when he said he was testifying to redeem himself and that he hoped the prosecutors would be lenient in their sentencing recommendation for him.
As part of Pfeifer’s plea deal, he was ordered to stay 500 feet away from Finn. As Pfeifer left the witness stand Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Lally told Fischer that there would be a brief delay between witnesses so they wouldn’t cross paths.
Finn then took the stand and admitted that while dating Pfeifer she had started an online escort business — educatedescorts.com — that catered to clientele who were “socially awkward computer geeks.” She said she quit being an escort about five years ago.
Finn said she believed her phones were tapped and would play “hours and hours of talk radio” into the receiver and use pay phones and neighbors’ phones to make calls. As the defendant in three lawsuits, Finn said she slowly was falling into debt and even considered filing for bankruptcy protection. After meeting with Pellicano and facing dire straits, Finn eventually recanted her deposition testimony. Pfeifer’s lawsuit against Z Access was settled a month later, and the lawsuits against Finn were dropped.
On cross-examination by Hummel, Finn said she claimed on her tax papers that she was a “travel guide.” The attorney asked if her clients really paid $9,000-$24,000 for a travel guide.
“I essentially felt like I was,” she said. “If they wanted sex, they could pay $500 for that somewhere else. I was dealing with socially awkward geeks.”
Hummel also got Finn to admit that the declaration she signed under penalty and perjury, recanting her testimony against Pfeifer, was false.
Finn’s testimony was polished, though she often said she was nervous. In a bizarre exchange during Pellicano’s cross-examination, Finn told him she was nervous and the former investigator suggested, “Maybe it would help to relax by playing back in your mind ‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”‘
Finn smiled at Pellicano and took a moment. “Feel better?” Pellicano asked. Finn nodded yes. “Good,” he said, and he continued, asking her about the drug testimony she gave against Pfeifer and whether she recalled testifying at the deposition that she thought he used amyl nitrate, a component in nitrous oxide. Finn testified that she did not.
Pellicano plans to cross-examine Pfeifer Wednesday.