A hedge fund manager testified Tuesday that a Hollywood private eye on trial in a wiretapping case suggested that a film producer and former Nevada gubernatorial candidate could be killed over an investment dispute.
The idea came up when investigator Anthony Pellicano met with Adam Sender and talked about Sender’s lawsuit against the producer and politician, Aaron Russo, Sender told jurors.
Sender said Pellicano told him: “If I wanted to I could authorize him to have (Russo) murdered on the way back from Las Vegas, have someone follow him back, drive him off the road and bury his body somewhere in the desert.”
Sender said he did not approve of the suggestion.
None of the charges against Pellicano or the four other defendants in the federal case involve solicitation of murder.
It was not the only time Pellicano was accused of considering a killing.
In court documents filed in 2006, federal prosecutors claimed Pellicano conspired with organized crime figures to place a hit on an associate supposedly hired to threaten a reporter. No one, including Pellicano, was ever charged in connection with that allegation.
Millions made from scheme?
Acting as his own lawyer, Pellicano asked Sender whether the statement about Russo could have been a passing suggestion, since Sender was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the lawsuit.
“He might have framed it that way,” Sender testified.
Prosecutors believe Pellicano, 64, bribed police officers and telephone company workers to collect information for clients to use against rivals in legal and other disputes.
Prosecutors estimate Pellicano, retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson and former telephone company employee Rayford Earl Turner collected nearly $2 million from the scheme.
Pellicano the other four co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to various charges. In all, 14 people have been charged, and seven already pleaded guilty to charges including perjury and conspiracy.
During his testimony, Sender recalled investing $1.1 million in an upstart production company and online business with Russo, who managed Bette Midler and produced such films as “Trading Places.”
He also made an unsuccessful run for Nevada governor as a Republican in 1998 and announced a second run in 2002, but he quit the race when he discovered he had cancer. He died last year.
When the companies paid no returns, Sender sued Russo and hired prominent Hollywood attorney Bert Fields, who secured the services of Pellicano, Sender testified.
Pellicano ‘very good at what he did’
Fields told Sender that Pellicano “was very good at what he did and used unorthodox methods but got the job done,” Sender said.
Prosecutors played a recorded conversation between Sender and Pellicano in which Sender said he would spend $200,000 to damage Russo’s reputation.
“I want to make this guy’s life as miserable as possible,” Sender said on the 2001 recording.
Sender, who was given immunity in exchange for his testimony, estimated that Pellicano played him as many as 15 recorded conversations between Russo and others. He also said he knew wiretapping was illegal but didn’t alert authorities, adding he was ashamed for not doing so.
Sender eventually paid about $500,000 for Pellicano to investigate Russo and another $300,000 in legal fees involving the lawsuit. He eventually recovered only $25,000 in a default judgment.
In other testimony, the ex-wife of actor Keith Carradine said Pellicano had played her wiretapped conversations between her former husband and his girlfriend at the time.
Sandra Will Carradine said she paid Pellicano $25,000 in April 2001 for his work in a child custody dispute, explaining she wanted to know where her ex-husband was living and where he had been working.
In a separate phone recording played for jurors, Pellicano told her that he would get the information, but that it was better if she didn’t know how.
“You’re better off not knowing anything,” Pellicano said on the recording.
She also testified that she didn’t want to know how he got the information and “didn’t want to be part of something illegal.”
Sandra Carradine previously pleaded guilty to two counts of perjury in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Asked by prosecutors why she lied to a federal grand jury in October 2004, she testified that she was protecting Pellicano during their sporadic romance from late 2002 to early 2006.
Also testifying was Lisa Gores, the former wife of billionaire businessman Alec Gores. She told jurors she had an affair with her husband’s brother in early 2001 and learned her spouse had hired Pellicano to investigate her.
Prosecutors said they plan to play the only wiretapped call introduced into evidence on Wednesday.
On the recording, Lisa Gores said, she talked to Tom Gores about her concern that someone had been following them after an evening rendezvous at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
At the time, Gores tearfully recalled, she didn’t want the tape to be made public.