By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2008
LOS ANGELES, April 30 -- The fallen shamus to the stars, Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano, finally addressed the jury yesterday in his federal wiretapping trial, describing himself as "a lone ranger" type who delivered the goods to his wealthy, litigious, bickering clients. But what Anthony Pellicano was not, said the squinty gumshoe, was the mastermind of some criminal organization, this "very well-connected and very well-paid thug," as the federal prosecutor asserted.
And so after two months of testimony about naughty spouses, grifter models and some wide-load egos vying for more credit and more cash, the case heads to the jury, probably Thursday, with Pellicano playing his role to the bitter end as the stand-up guy, the keeper of secrets, mum's the word, who doesn't rat out his crew.
As you may recall, Pellicano, 64, is already serving federal time for illegal possession of plastic explosives and hand grenades. He is currently charged with wiretapping telephones and using a former Los Angeles police sergeant to run names through law enforcement databases to get criminal histories, license tags and other privileged information. Pellicano and his four co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Acting as his own attorney, Pellicano made his closing arguments. His presentation was low-key, familiar, conciliatory, even to the feds. Of the jury, he never demanded, he never begged, didn't play the heavy. He was nice Uncle Tony. Dressed in a gray T-shirt and Club Fed green windbreaker, the balding PI stood at the podium and addressed his jury. "Hi," he said. "This is the first time I will be able to speak for Mr. Pellicano." Because of the rules of the court, Pellicano the advocate must refer to Pellicano the defendant in the third person. You are correct: It is weird.
Pellicano began by paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin's wisdom that three can keep a secret if two are dead. He continued, about himself, "His job was problem-solving through the acquisition of information with the purpose of having a positive outcome. In other words, winning, that's what it was all about." The Sunset Boulevard dick then suggested that his business card should have been embossed with the motto "I deliver."
Prosecutors say Pellicano used illegal wiretaps to gather inside dope for his clients and their lawyers, who include some brand names in Hollywood, such as Chris Rock (who says he was being shaken down by a Hungarian model who falsely claimed Rock was her baby daddy), Paramount studio mogul Brad Grey (who was fighting with his former client, comedian Garry Shandling) and yesteryear's super-agent, Michael Ovitz, who hired Pellicano to find out whether two of his many rivals -- Universal Studios head Ron Meyer and DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen -- were funneling damaging dish to the entertainment press.
The reporters who upset Ovitz included former Los Angeles Times journalist Anita Busch, who endured not one but two wiretaps and mysterious threats, including a smashed car window and the anonymous delivery of a dead fish and a rose. While Pellicano is not charged with harassment, federal prosecutor Daniel Saunders, in his closing statement, told jurors that as soon as Pellicano was hired, "witnesses start receiving threatening phone calls and dead fish appear on reporters' cars." (Pellicano clients Rock, Grey and Ovitz have denied knowledge of any wiretaps and were not charged with any wrongdoing.)
More insights from his closing argument: Pellicano described Pellicano as a master of compartmentalization. "He kept things to himself," he said. "He was effectively a lone ranger." Noting that "he could never, ever, trust any attorney," Pellicano said, "he simply got the job done. Everyone who hired him knew what they were getting."
Pellicano never mentioned wiretaps in his statement yesterday. As for his employment of defrocked Los Angeles police sergeant Mark Arenson to provide confidential law enforcement data, Pellicano sneered, "License plates? Boy, having that? Case closed. Not really." Nothing more than a little shortcut, he said, a little snooping, the kind of research done by "even some of these journalists out there," and he waved his arm toward the scribbling hacks in the courtroom benches.
"One of the things you're not going to find was that Pellicano was a criminal enterprise. What he was, was a private investigator," said Pellicano, who added that if he were guilty of racketeering, so is every other private dick in the country, who, he suggests, all cut a few corners.
Then as is his wont, Pellicano wandered off into new legal terrain, offering up a kind of Zen koan when he said, "The evidence will show what the evidence shows and clearly it does." No, he was not going to insult the jury's intelligence, he promised, with a lot of argument. He concluded, "Mr. Pellicano is responsible and that is the simple truth."
Finally, despite earlier claims/hopes/fears in the media that the Pellicano case could drag down the titans of Hollywood and reveal the sordid underbelly of Tinseltown, it hasn't exactly turned out that way. No big fish were caught in these nets.