It all began with Steven Seagal.

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April 3 2006 2:55 PM

Catching Up With the Pellicano Trial

It all began with Steven Seagal.

Anthony Pellicano, P.I. Click image to expand.
Anthony Pellicano, P.I.

Known as a sleuth-to-the-stars, 61-year-old Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano is currently facing at least 110 counts of conspiracy, racketeering, bribery, and illegal wiretapping in federal court. His investigative services have ranged from eavesdropping to witness intimidation, at a fee of up to $100,000 per case.

Tabloid and media interest has swelled in recent weeks as the investigation has cast an ever-widening net, revealing Pellicano's ex-client list to be a virtual directory of who's who in Hollywood.

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Pellicano's name first surfaced four years ago in an unrelated investigation of death threats that were issued to two reporters writing stories on actor Steven Seagal's alleged Mafia ties. A subsequent police raid of Pellicano's offices unearthed illegal explosives (for which Pellicano has already served a two-and-a-half-year prison term), as well as thousands of hours of wiretapped conversations on computer audio files. One of the recordings features the voice of Nicole Kidman, dating from the period of her separation from Tom Cruise in 2001. This discovery led police to question prominent divorce attorney Dennis Wasser, who allegedly enlisted Pellicano's wiretapping services to help orchestrate a tabloid-free split between Cruise and Kidman. Wasser has since been named a "person of interest." In the lexicon of federal investigations, this refers to someone who might be able to provide pertinent information but will not necessarily face prosecution.

Others mentioned in connection with Pellicano include key entertainment players such as former MGM tycoon Kirk Kerkorian, Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey, lawyer Bert Fields, Creative Artists Agency founder Michael Ovitz, actor John Travolta, and pop star Michael Jackson. In contrast to these high-profile names, the 13 people who have actually been charged or pleaded guilty are more obscure, primarily former police officers who gave Pellicano access to confidential law-enforcement databases and phone-company employees who assisted in the wiretapping or disclosed private information about the individuals targeted by Pellicano. Of those currently indicted, Terry Christensen, a top Los Angeles attorney whose firm has represented entertainers such as Barbra Streisand, Elton John, Kim Basinger, and Sean Connery, is the most prominent name within Hollywood circles.

In addition to the federal racketeering charges, Pellicano faces civil lawsuits from individuals who suspect that his interference may have adversely affected the legal outcome in related cases, including movie producer Bo Zenga  and Kerkorian's ex-wife.

With his thuggish appearance and brash style, Pellicano bears an uncanny resemblance to the genre of detective made famous by classic Hollywood noir. This real-life manifestation of an otherwise fictional and mythologized figure undoubtedly accounts for the heightened fascination both industry insiders and the general public have shown for this burgeoning case. Prosecutors are predicting additional charges will be made against Pellicano before his preliminary trial date of April 18.

Adam Christian is co-editor of "Fraywatch" and lives in Los Angeles.