Anthony Pellicano spent decades building his reputation in Hollywood as a crafty, bare-knuckled private eye who worked for a long roster of A-list clients, including Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson.
So it figured that his indictment two years ago in a federal wiretapping case would make entertainment power players nervous about who else might be charged and what secrets might be exposed.
The cliffhanger dropped with a thud, however, when Pellicano refused to flip on his rich and famous clients.
But there will be at least one plot twist during the trial of Pellicano and four co-defendants: The private eye will act as his own attorney, meaning he’ll likely have the goods as he questions former clients who testify against him.
“I’m not going to willfully hurt anyone,” he told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview from federal prison. “But I might ask questions ... that might make people uncomfortable.”
Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors laid out much of their trial strategy in court documents filed Friday.
They portrayed Pellicano, 63, as an ambitious investigator-to-the-stars who ran a criminal enterprise that wiretapped phones and bribed police and telephone workers to get the “gold standard” of confidential information.
He is accused of charging at least $25,000 for dirt that could be used to gain an edge in divorce and business disputes. Some of the information even involved rape and murder cases, according to the court documents.
Prosecutors estimate that Pellicano, retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson and former telephone company employee Rayford Earl Turner collected nearly $2 million from what they say was a racketeering scheme.
For the most part, prosecutors could not determine that Pellicano’s clients were aware of the tactics.
Prosecutors have said those targeted included Sylvester Stallone and comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon.
It was unclear whether any of them would testify, since prosecutors won’t file a list of possible witnesses until the trial begins. Stallone told the AP last month that he would be willing to testify, even though he had not yet been subpoenaed.
Some legal experts believe a parade of celebrity witnesses might distract jurors.
“Prosecutors won’t call these people unless it’s absolutely necessary,” said criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Mark Werksman. “The more plain and vanilla the evidence is, it does the job more effectively.”
A prosecution exhibit list filed late Tuesday showed they planned to introduce more than 70 audio recordings that were seized during FBI raids of Pellicano’s office several years ago.
‘It’s like ‘L.A. Confidential,’ the B-movie’
Court documents indicate prosecutors will focus their case on how Pellicano’s clandestine business operated, rather than presenting an expose on the celebrities who hired him.
“It doesn’t appear to have all the sexy bells and whistles,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School. “It’s like ‘L.A. Confidential,’ the B-movie.”
Pellicano and his co-defendants, including Kevin Kachikian and Abner Nicherie, have pleaded not guilty. In all, 14 people have been charged, and seven already pleaded guilty to a variety of charges including perjury and conspiracy.
The court documents detailed a dozen cases in which Pellicano is suspected of illegally obtaining information.
One case involves a 2000 dispute between screenwriter Vincent “Bo” Zenga and then-producer Brad Grey, now chairman and chief executive officer of Paramount Pictures.
Prosecutors believe Grey’s attorneys paid Pellicano $25,000 to see whether Zenga had a criminal history and for other details about him, his family and associates. Grey declined to comment through a Paramount spokesman.
Prosecutors said Sender paid Pellicano $500,000 to work on his lawsuit against Russo in 2001.
Sender intends to testify at the trial that Pellicano later played recordings for him of wiretapped calls involving Russo and his associates, the court documents state. Russo has since died.
Despite having a treasure trove of Hollywood secrets, Pellicano said he won’t reveal them to save his own skin.
“There are a lot of celebrities’ secrets I still hold and I haven’t broken a vow, even to the people I don’t like,” he said. “If I was going to say something, I would have said something a long time ago.”