Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for running a wiretapping scheme that spied on the rich and famous.
U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer also ordered the 64-year-old Pellicano and two other defendants to forfeit a total of $2 million.
Pellicano showed no emotion when the sentence was read. “I have taken full and complete responsibility for all my actions,” he said.
Fischer said Pellicano engaged in “reprehensible behavior” while digging up dirt for his well-heeled clients to use in legal and other disputes.
“He did this eagerly, sometimes maliciously and with extreme pride,” the judge said.
The private eye was convicted of a combined 78 counts, including wiretapping, racketeering and wire fraud, in two separate trials earlier this year.
Prosecutors said Pellicano wiretapped stars such as Sylvester Stallone and bribed police officers to run the names of comedians such as Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon through law enforcement databases to gain information.
Prosecutors previously recommended in court documents that Pellicano serve nearly 16 years in prison for running a criminal enterprise and for becoming a “high-priced thief who fraudulently obtained prominence through the harm that he wantonly inflicted on others.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Saunders said outside court that he thought the sentence was appropriate.
Pellicano must serve 85 percent of his sentence, making him eligible for release when he is about to turn 77, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Steve Gruel plans to appeal Pellicano’s conviction. He said authorities tried but couldn’t get Pellicano to cooperate with their investigation and now are taking it out on him by recommending a hefty prison sentence.
“Three years ago they wanted him to provide the sizzle, and he didn’t and he won’t,” Gruel said.
Fourteen people chargedIn all, 14 people have been charged. Seven, including film director John McTiernan and former Hollywood Records president Robert Pfeifer, have pleaded guilty to charges including perjury and conspiracy.
Authorities investigated Pellicano’s activities for three years. An indictment was unsealed in February 2006, just days after he completed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for possessing illegal weapons.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Pellicano as a well-connected thug who ran a lucrative business by charging clients a nonrefundable retainer fee that started at $25,000 and could reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Authorities were led to Pellicano after former Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch found a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on her car along with a sign reading “stop” in June 2002.
The discovery came after she wrote a series of unflattering articles about one-time superagent Michael Ovitz, a Pellicano client.
Busch, hobbled by a hip injury, spoke before sentencing, telling the judge she has suffered with stress-related physical and emotional problems because of Pellicano. She no longer works in journalism.
“It was a death by a thousand cuts,” she said of the affect of the spying on her life. “They were deep and they were hard.”
Former Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson and ex-telephone company employee Ray Turner were also ordered to pay restitution for accessing confidential information for Pellicano. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29.
Most industry players not charged
Major industry players with links to Pellicano, such as Ovitz, Paramount studio head Brad Grey and entertainment attorney Bert Fields, weren’t charged in the case and maintained they didn’t know about Pellicano’s tactics.
Pellicano and four co-defendants, including Arneson and Turner, were convicted in May.
Pellicano acted as his own attorney during the trial and called only one witness. He kept his promise that he wouldn’t give up information about his clients to save himself.
In another trial, Pellicano was found guilty along with entertainment attorney Terry Christensen of charges linked to the wiretapping of billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian’s former wife in a child support battle.
Prosecutors said they bugged her phone conversations to disprove her claims that the MGM mogul was the father of her young daughter. DNA tests later showed movie producer Steve Bing was the biological father.
Christensen was sentenced last month to three years is prison.
Pellicano and Alexander Proctor, who prosecutors said was hired by the private eye, are awaiting trial in state court on charges of conspiracy and making criminal threats in the Busch case.
Proctor, 65, is serving a 10-year sentence on unrelated drug charges in a Georgia prison.
Numerous civil lawsuits against Pellicano and others seek unspecified damages and claim his activities amounted to invasion of privacy, negligence and infliction of emotional distress.