Opening statements begin today in the federal trial of Anthony Pellicano, the Hollywood private eye charged with racketeering, wire fraud and a host of other crimes for using allegedly illegal means to dig up dirt on behalf of super-agent Michael Ovitz, "Die Hard" film director John McTiernan and other celebrity clients.
The self-styled private investigator to the stars gained acclaim for obtaining information that none of his competitors could. Unfortunately, say federal prosecutors, he got the scoops by wiretapping telephones and bribing police and phone company employees to search confidential databases for rap sheets, police reports and phone bills. He then used the information to win the upper hand in lawsuits, divorces and other legal proceedings. His services were so highly valued that his fees started at $25,000 per job and could easily soar to hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to prosecutors.
Joining him on trial are Mark Arneson, a former Los Angeles police sergeant whom Pellicano allegedly paid $2,500 a month to search confidential police databases; Rayford Earl Turner, a former SBC phone company employee who allegedly passed phone records to Pellicano; Kevin Kachikian, the inventor of Telesleuth, a device allegedly used to illegally tap phones; and Abner Nicherie, a relatively minor participant who in one case allegedly helped Pellicano translate wiretapped calls from Hebrew to English. All the defendants have pleaded innocent to the charges against them.
Headlining the prosecution's witness list are actors Keith Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, Sylvester Stallone and Garry Shandling as well as attorney Bertram Fields. There has been no indiction yet on when these witnesses may appear in the course of a trial expected to last from eight to 10 weeks.
Pellicano, a tough-talking, colorful character cut straight from the cloth of the classic Hollywood gumshoe, told the Associated Press in a recent interview from federal prison that he and his attorneys plan an aggressive defense.
"I'm not going to willfully hurt anyone,'' he said of celebrities and super-agents that plan to testify against him. "But I might ask questions … that might make people uncomfortable."
Prosecutors have said in court papers that Pellicano and his co-defendants collected as much as $2 million during the course of their illegal activities. They say celebrities that were the targets of Pellicano-led investigations include Stallone, Shandling and "Saturday Night Live'' comedian Kevin Nealon.
But despite his threat to bare the secrets of those who testify against him, Pellicano seemed to want to reassure other clients whom he believes have remained loyal to him that their private matters remain safe.
"There are a lot of celebrities' secrets I still hold, and I haven't broken a vow, even to the people I don't like,'' he told the AP. "If I was going to say something, I would have said something a long time ago."