A prominent attorney who represented billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian was indicted Wednesday for allegedly paying a private investigator $100,000 to illegally wiretap the phones of Kerkorian’s ex-wife.
Terry Christensen is the latest of 11 people charged in an alleged wiretapping scheme involving Hollywood celebrities and executives.
Prosecutors allege Christensen conspired with the alleged leader of the scheme, private investigator Anthony Pellicano, to illegally wiretap the phones of Lisa Bonder Kerkorian in 2002.
Christensen allegedly paid Pellicano at least $100,000 for the wiretap, court documents state.
Pellicano, for years one of the go-to guys in Hollywood for anyone seeking to snuff out a scandal, is at the center of a wide-ranging wiretapping probe that has Tinseltown on edge. He was hired to dig up dirt and there’s the potential the case could expose shady dealings involving some of Hollywood’s elite.
Bonder Kerkorian was involved in a high-profile legal battle with Kerkorian over child support at the time, but the indictment does not name the Christensen client at issue. Christensen represented Kerkorian in a variety of cases, most of them business-related.
Christensen “would use the information gleaned from the illegal wiretap to secure a tactical advantage in litigation by learning Lisa Bonder Kerkorian’s plans, strategies, perceived strengths and weaknesses ... and other confidential information,” according to the indictment.
Kerkorian, a major shareholder in MGM Mirage Inc., had a decade-long romantic relationship with Bonder Kerkorian, a former tennis pro, but they were married for only a month in 1999. Bonder Kerkorian had been seeking more money to support her daughter but admitted during a 2002 court battle that she faked the DNA paternity test by using saliva she obtained from Kerkorian’s adult daughter.
Christensen, 65, of Beverly Hills, was charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of intercepting wire communications. If convicted of both counts, he could face up to 10 years in federal prison.
Christensen’s lawyers Terree Bowers and Jan Handzlik said in a statement issued Wednesday that they are convinced that the allegations are unfounded and their client will be cleared.
“Terry did not contact Pellicano, never hired him to wiretap anyone and had not even previously used Pellicano’s services,” the lawyers wrote. “It was Pellicano who placed an unsolicited call to Terry nearly four years ago offering information about alleged extortionate demands and death threats being made against a young child and one of Terry’s closest and longest friends.”
Kerkorian, issued a one-sentence statement through his company Tracinda Corp. of Beverly Hills: “Terry Christensen is a paragon of integrity who has always done the right thing throughout the 35 years I have had the privilege of knowing him.”
A previous indictment, unsealed last week, said information gathered by Pellicano and associates was used for threats, blackmail and in some cases to tilt litigation.
Federal investigators haven’t named other Pellicano clients or disclosed if they may have known about his methods.
However, the court documents revealed that the phones of actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were tapped. In addition, the names of more than 60 people, including comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, were run through police and government databases, the indictment said.
Six people, including Pellicano, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges in connection with the wiretapping scandal, and one has yet to enter a plea. Two people have pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
Also charged Wednesday was a phone company worker alleged to have lied to a grand jury about her contacts with a colleague who was named in the main indictment.
Christensen also represented entertainment producer Steven Bing in a 2002 dispute with Kerkorian for alleged invasion of privacy and trespassing. The lawsuit, which was amicably resolved, sought more than $1 billion from Kerkorian, who allegedly was behind an effort to determine through DNA tests if Bing had fathered Bonder Kerkorian’s daughter.
Christensen later said that DNA tests proved Bing was the girl’s biological father.