Private investigator Anthony Pellicano is on trial in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. He's defending himself against charges of intimidating reporters on behalf of his high-powered Hollywood clients. With wiretapping, celebrities, and lots of money and intrigue, David Carr of The New York Times says the story would make a great movie.
Intimidation, wiretapping, intrigue and big money - it's a story straight out of Hollywood and, in fact, it's a story – straight out of Hollywood.
Private investigator Anthony Pellicano is on trial in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. He's defending himself – no lawyer – against charges of intimidating reporters on behalf of his high-powered Hollywood clients. Say you're a bigwig, worried about an unflattering profile about to run in a big magazine. Pellicano would allegedly make it go away, or try to, with methods that would earn two thumbs up from Billy Wilder.
New York Times reporter David Carr watched the proceedings last week. Now he's back. David, welcome back to OTM. DAVID CARR: A pleasure to be with you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: As the story goes now, in 2002, Pellicano was accused of threatening L.A. Times reporter Anita M. Busch by having a fish and a rose placed in her car, along with a bullet-sized hole in the windshield? DAVID CARR: You can't make this stuff up, Brooke. [BROOKE LAUGHS] I wish I had. BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you mean you can't make it up? It's exactly like the horse head in the bed in The Godfather. DAVID CARR: Except, it's real. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, this was said to have been done for Pellicano client, Steven Seagal, right? DAVID CARR: You know, the agency of the threat is really difficult to track. But allegedly she had been pursuing a long-running story about Michael Ovitz and then a long-running story about Steven Seagal, and she found this dead fish, a rose, a bullet hole in the window.
And then a Vanity Fair reporter, Ned Zeman, who was also doing a story about Steven Seagal, had some guys pull up next to him while he was driving and fire an empty gun and say the word "bang" and tell him to stop what you're doing. So it's kind of L.A. Confidential plus. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, Pellicano has only been charged in the Anita Busch incident, right? DAVID CARR: He has been charged with multiple counts of wiretapping and racketeering with regard to the Anita Busch case and many, many others. It's been alleged that he engaged in a wholesale pattern of wiretapping to obtain confidential information that would advance his clients' business or often marital interests.
I mean, most of the clients came through Bert Fields, famed Hollywood attorney that represents many powerful folks. Chris Rock was a client. Brad Grey was a client. Michael Ovitz was a constant client. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you're a bigwig in Hollywood and someone is out to get you. Either they're out to blackmail you into a cutting a better deal, they're out to, you know, name you in a paternity suit. You've got somebody on you like white on rice. You call Bert Fields, this big-time Hollywood talent manager, and he connects you with Pellicano? DAVID CARR: You either call Mr. Fields, or you call Mr. Pellicano directly and you say - I have a problem, I'd like you to make it go away. And he is not going to fill you in on the details but, in fact, he may use a crooked Beverly Hills cop, as he did. Craig Stevens testified that he pulled criminal motor vehicle records on over a hundred people on his behalf.
He may, in fact, do background checks on you in other ways that give his client leverage, or, barring that, he may rent an apartment in your zip code and, it's alleged, set up a phone tap so that your every move is known to his client. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Garry Shandling and Keith Carradine also made their way as witnesses through this courtroom, right? DAVID CARR: Yeah, but they were victims. Garry Shandling was subjected to endless wiretaps. He kept trying to figure out how it is that the people he was negotiating with seemed to know his every move before he did, and it turns out they were listening in on the line. For all I know, Mr. Pellicano's hearing this conversation as well. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] But I guess the question for our listeners would be why are we asking you about this except for the fact that it's so delicious and wonderful? You write that the trial could serve as an accurate, if untidy, prism on the ethos of the modern entertainment business – to wit, you scratch my back, I'll stab yours. DAVID CARR: What else do you want? I mean, this is how business is conducted in some parts of Los Angeles. Everybody smiles and wears beige and acts like they're in agreement, but when it comes down to it, they're using guerilla tactics from the hills to gain any advantage they can.
I think the reason that there are these black ops underway is that all of Hollywood has watched way too many movies about how business is done. And this is a movie brought to life where people engaged in behavior that's far beyond the ken of both federal and state laws. But many of them are going to end up living beyond consequence, so maybe it is a little bit of a movie. BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Pellicano goes through all of these hijinks and - to what end? DAVID CARR: Well, you have to give Pellicano some credit because he's living his values. He could have very easily thrown over his clients when the Feds came for him. He was first charged with possession of explosives, served, I think, 30 months for that. And then just when he's due to get back out, they said, we're going to charge you with wiretapping.
At that point, it would have been a simple matter for Mr. Pellicano to say, well, you know what, I didn't do this by myself, there's a lot of big people in Hollywood who made this happen. He did none of that. He has his own personal code of silence. He's made a decision that he's going to fight this tooth and nail.
But when you're charged in a federal court, and representing yourself, no less, there's not much chance he's going to get away. But a lot of other people have. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David, thanks so much. DAVID CARR: An absolute pleasure. Good luck keeping this all straight, Brooke. [BROOKE LAUGHS] No one knows, man. The thing is, is every cliché that you've ever seen in a Hollywood movie about skullduggery is there on display, in an open federal court. It's breathtaking to walk into. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Thanks again. DAVID CARR: A pleasure, Brooke.