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A Case that Never Lived Up to Its Billing: Pellicano Convicted in Wiretaps Case

LOS ANGELES — Anthony Pellicano, the ripped-from-a-pulp-novel private eye who made himself an indispensable fixer for Hollywood stars and moguls, was found guilty in federal court Thursday of racketeering, wiretapping and other charges.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated nine days before finding Mr. Pellicano, 64, guilty of 76 of the 77 counts against him, mostly in connection with his extensive wiretapping operation, which he used to dig up dirt on business enemies and former spouses of his powerful clients.

The jury also convicted his four co-defendants, among them a former police detective and a retired phone company technician, on a variety of charges.

The verdict, which took Judge Dale S. Fischer a full hour to read, was a resounding victory for the government after six years of investigation.

“We are extremely pleased and gratified,” said a beaming Daniel A. Saunders, the lead prosecutor, as he left the courthouse.

Mr. Pellicano, who represented himself, faces up to 20 years in prison on the single count of racketeering alone at sentencing on Sept. 24.

He sat silently and grimly as the judge read the verdict against him, his face flushing briefly, before averting his eyes from the jury box and staring into space. His wife, Kat, whom he married for the second time while awaiting trial, watched blankly from the gallery.

But like a script with third-act problems, the verdict provided an anticlimactic ending to a case that once sent shivers through Hollywood and led to a list of grand jury witnesses as star-studded as a red carpet.

Some legal experts questioned whether the government — by so aggressively pursuing Mr. Pellicano but not the people who hired him — had undermined its own goal of creating a deterrent to others with wealth and power who might hold themselves above the law.

“If the government has no plans to go higher than Pellicano, this is a depressingly pedestrian effort that shows a lack of ambition,” said John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on white-collar crime.

The six-year investigation of Mr. Pellicano began when an entertainment journalist, Anita M. Busch, was threatened in June 2002 after writing damaging articles about Michael S. Ovitz, the once-dominant talent agent.

The investigation into the threat, which uncovered Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping enterprise, seized Hollywood’s imagination as personalities like Mr. Ovitz; Bert Fields, the $900-per-hour entertainment lawyer who often retained Mr. Pellicano; and Brad Grey, the talent manager turned studio boss at Paramount, were implicated.

Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were wiretapped, it turned out; Garry Shandling was subjected to an illegal criminal background check. Stars like Chris Rock and Courtney Love were revealed as beneficiaries of Mr. Pellicano’s illicit trade.

But the only industry players ultimately charged were the movie director John McTiernan, hardly a household name; a mid-level record executive, Robert Pfeifer; and the founding partner of a Hollywood litigation firm, Terry N. Christensen.

Mr. Christensen, accused of paying Mr. Pellicano to wiretap the former wife of his billionaire client, Kirk Kerkorian, succeeded in having his trial severed from the main case. He awaits trial, with Mr. Pellicano, on the remaining wiretapping and conspiracy charges. Mr. McTiernan pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and was sentenced to four months in prison; he has sought to withdraw that plea and is appealing. Mr. Pfeifer testified for the government and awaits sentencing.

The starkest example of the government’s failure as yet to deal any crushing blows to people in power came when the lead F.B.I. agent on the case, Stanley Ornellas, testified flatly that Mr. Ovitz was responsible for orchestrating the threat against Ms. Busch — after Mr. Ovitz’s testimony that he had no role in it had gone unchallenged by prosecutors.

Moreover, a parade of wealthy witnesses admitted they knew about, paid for and listened to wiretaps, but were not charged. They included Alec Gores, a billionaire corporate buyout specialist; Freddy DeMann, a music executive who was once Madonna’s manager; Adam D. Sender, a hedge fund manager and onetime movie investor; and Andrew Stevens, an actor turned movie producer.

(The sole count Mr. Pellicano was acquitted of involved unauthorized access to government computers in connection with Mr. Sender.)

Mr. Saunders defended his handling of the case, saying he chose to attack the supply rather than the demand, the way that vice investigators attack pimps and prostitutes rather than johns, because “that’s how you make a dent in it.”

In a statement, he and Kevin Lally, another prosecutor, added that “the defendants have received the full benefits of the justice system that they sought to deny to others.”

Mr. Coffee, however, said that “even in drug and Mafia cases, the government knows that foot soldiers are fungible and can be replaced easily — thus, one needs to focus on the kingpins.

“This case has not done so — yet,” he continued. “But in fairness to the government, that might still be their aim. If not, they have invested great resources in catching a harvest of minnow, and the colorful but insignificant Pellicano.”

Those minnows include Mark Arneson, a former police sergeant accused of taking bribes to use law enforcement computers to run background checks for Mr. Pellicano. He was found guilty on all counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud, unauthorized access to government computers and computer fraud. His lawyer, Chad Hummel, vowed to appeal.

Rayford Earl Turner, a former phone company worker, was found guilty of 17 crimes including racketeering, conspiracy and wiretapping, but was acquitted of four of nine wiretapping counts.

Kevin Kachikian, a computer programmer accused of building Mr. Pellicano’s wiretapping gear, was convicted of possessing a wiretapping device and conspiracy to wiretap, but acquitted of nine counts of wiretapping.

Abner Nicherie, an Israeli charged with listening to and translating a business adversary’s intercepted calls, was convicted of aiding and abetting wiretapping.

Ms. Busch, who arrived at the end of the verdict’s reading, handed out a statement as she left, saying she was “eternally grateful” to law enforcement agents, judge and jury.

With its patchwork of film noir and farce, the trial many had thought was a sure thing to lead to a Hollywood movie wound up more like potential fodder for a cable special, at most a movie of the week. Fittingly for a case that never lived up to its billing, the most entertaining possibilities never materialized.

Mr. Fields never took the stand, though both government and defense lawyers had threatened to call him — dashing hopes for a confrontation with prosecutors along the lines of “A Few Good Men.” And Mr. Pellicano ultimately decided against putting himself on the stand in his own defense after the judge mused aloud about the potential for a madcap auto-interrogation à la Woody Allen in “Bananas.”

Instead, the courtroom drama ranged from morbid to simply embarrassing. Mr. Pellicano inexplicably made Ms. Busch, whom he was accused of terrorizing, relive and recount her experiences in excruciating detail. And he provoked a former employee, whom he had once likened to a daughter, into giving some of the most damaging testimony against him.

The jury forewoman, Terri Winbush, said jurors were swayed by the audio evidence they heard. The calls, which he said he recorded for his own use and not to share with others, were recovered from computers when his offices were raided.

In the calls, Mr. Pellicano was often heard posturing as if he were a Cosa Nostra mobster, boasting of his omertà-like code of honor, his connections to gangsters and his distaste for “rats.”

But Ms. Winbush said jurors were not impressed by Mr. Pellicano’s portrayal of a defense lawyer. “He should have had someone representing him,” she said.


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