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Steven Seagal Not Tied to Dead Fish Threat

Los Angeles- Federal officials investigating infamous Hollywood detective Anthony Pellicano have found no convincing evidence that actor Steven Seagal was involved in depositing a dead fish on a reporter’s windshield in June 2002 and now believe Pellicano had some other motivation for staging the mob-style threat.

While prosecutors have yet to explain what that impetus was, their current lack of interest in Seagal fundamentally alters the original plot line of this Hollywood cliffhanger and raises this question: If not the movie star, then who was Pellicano working for?

The original premise was that Seagal had hired Pellicano to threaten Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch and scare her off a story about the actor’s problems with organized crime.

The FBI initially subscribed to that theory because Alexander Proctor, the former convict that Pellicano allegedly hired to put a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a note that said “Stop” on the smashed windshield of Busch’s car, claimed he was working for Pellicano on Seagal’s behalf.

Seagal’s lawyers have denied since the fall of 2002 that the actor had anything to do with the threat, but federal authorities have never publicly exonerated him or explained why they eventually came to disbelieve Proctor.

“As we looked into it, there was very little to corroborate” Proctor’s claim, said a source close to the investigation. “There was a lot to suggest that Seagal was not involved.”

Indeed, the 110-count federal indictment accusing Pellicano and six others of conspiring to blackmail and intimidate dozens of celebrities, business executives and others in Los Angeles alleges that the private eye started spying on Busch well before Seagal was even on her radar.

Pellicano allegedly began prying into Busch’s life nine days after she and her reporting partner, Bernard Weinraub, wrapped up a series of damaging articles in the New York Times about former super agent Michael Ovitz – and more than two weeks before she began working on the Seagal story for the Los Angeles Times.

On May 16, 2002, Pellicano allegedly asked his contact in the Los Angeles Police Department, Sgt. Mark Arneson – also now indicted – to troll for information on Busch and Weinraub in law enforcement databases. Pellicano also is accused of paying telephone company technician Rayford Earl Turner to obtain confidential information that later enabled the private eye to tap Busch’s phone. She no longer works for The Times.

As the racketeering investigation has widened, a big unknown is the extent to which Pellicano acted at the behest of high-powered lawyers or their clients – or on his own in a bid to impress them.

But for whatever reasons they may have been targeted, several others with Busch on the list of Pellicano’s purported victims also had some unpleasant history with Ovitz.

On the same day Pellicano allegedly requested Busch’s information, he turned to Arneson for data on James Casey, who had sued Ovitz’s Artists Management Group two months earlier to collect $450,000 he alleged he was owed for referring an athlete to the firm.

Six days before that, Pellicano had asked Arneson for information on Arthur Bernier, a former Artists Management executive who sued Ovitz in April 2002 for wrongful termination, alleging he was owed about $200,000.

And almost a year earlier, Pellicano allegedly went after two other Ovitz adversaries, talent agents Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane, ordering their names run through the law enforcement databases as well.

Both were former proteges of Ovitz at Creative Artists Agency, which he co-founded. They became his competitors when Ovitz started Artists Management Group after a brief but tumultuous stint as president of the Walt Disney Co. in the mid-1990s.

Federal officials would not say if they regard Ovitz, who has testified before a grand jury in the case, as anything other than a witness.

Through his lawyer, Ovitz acknowledged that a law firm working on behalf of Artists Management on the Casey and Bernier matters, Gorry Meyer & Rudd, retained Pellicano in early May 2002.

But Ovitz denies any knowledge of the alleged wiretapping or illegal background checks detailed in the indictment, his lawyer said.

“At no time did Mr. Ovitz or anyone on his behalf ever direct or instruct Mr. Pellicano, or anyone, to engage in improper or illegal means to carry out the legitimate tasks for which he was engaged,” said James Ellis, Ovitz’s personal attorney. “Nor was Mr. Ovitz aware of any improper or illegal activities undertaken by Mr. Pellicano at any time.”

Ellis said that Ovitz has been told by federal authorities that some of his “conversations were recorded by Anthony as well.” Ellis said it was unclear whether Ovitz was talking to Pellicano or other people in the recorded conservations.

Ellis said Ovitz was unaware of, and did not authorize, Pellicano to conduct “any type of background check” on Lourd or Huvane in 2001.

Ellis also said prosecutors have assured Ovitz – once known as the most powerful man in Hollywood – that “he is considered a witness in this matter,” and nothing more.

“Mr. Ovitz was interviewed over two years ago by the authorities and answered all of their questions. He also testified under oath in front of the grand jury and again answered the questions that were posed to him,” Ellis said. “There simply has never been any indication that the authorities believe that Mr. Ovitz was complicit in any criminal or improper acts. Any implication otherwise is just wrong.”

Seagal’s lawyers, in denying that the actor had anything to do with the fish incident, said that their client, if anything, was one of Pellicano’s victims.

Court records indicate that, rather than working for Seagal at the time Busch was threatened, Pellicano was actually working against him on behalf of Gorry Meyer & Rudd, the same firm that had hired Pellicano for help in Artist Management’s disputes with Casey and Bernier. Gorry Meyer alleged it was owed $260,000 in legal fees by Seagal.

In defending Seagal in the fee dispute, the law firm of Lavely & Singer accused Gorry Meyer of hiring Pellicano to intimidate Seagal.

The law firm did so, Lavely & Singer contended in court papers, even though one of its partners, Christopher Rudd, was “aware of the substantial hatred” between the actor and Pellicano and “knew that simply hiring Mr. Pellicano to attempt to collect the disputed fees would constitute a threat.”

But while finding evidence that Pellicano had been hired as a private investigator, the judge in the case found no proof that he did anything to threaten or intimidate Seagal, court records show.

A year earlier, Pellicano surfaced in another dispute in which Gorry Meyer was engaged – this one involving Ovitz’s company.

In an unusual role for a private investigator who bragged of sometimes settling disputes with a baseball bat, Pellicano acted as a negotiator for Gorry Meyer in Ovitz’s trademark dispute.

At the time, his Artists Management Group was locked in a legal battle with a firm with the same initials, Advantage Marketing Group, a Texas-based company whose clients have included former Dallas Cowboys star running back Emmitt Smith.

Ovitz’s company sued in federal court over the right to use the AMG name. In a counterclaim, Advantage contended it had actively used the name since 1985 and intended to keep it. One of its executives accused Artists Management of attempting to “steamroll us because we’re a small agency.”

After having read about the lawsuit, Ellis said, “Mr. Pellicano noted that he had a good relationship with certain parties involved and suggested that he might be able to settle the matter. He and other mutual acquaintances were authorized by counsel to give it a try. It is not unusual, especially in the entertainment industry, to enlist the participation of such intermediaries in an effort to resolve business disagreements.”

In June 2002, Pellicano contacted a Washington, D.C.-based attorney for Advantage Marketing, Carla Calcagno, and told her he was authorized to help settle the dispute, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Calcagno declined to comment.

But the sources said she was wary of Pellicano because of his reputation as a Hollywood tough guy and refused to deal with him in crafting the settlement.

Neither this case, nor Ovitz’s name, appear in the indictment, which notes that Pellicano sometimes took it upon himself to initiate his spying, in a bid to strengthen his reputation with “lucrative clients, including entertainment celebrities and executives, attorneys and law firms.”

One high-profile entertainment lawyer who has done work for Ovitz’s firm, Bertram Fields, has acknowledged being a subject of the FBI investigation. Many of the counts in the indictment pertain to Pellicano’s alleged wiretapping and illegal background checks of adversaries of Fields’ clients.

As in the trademark case, Fields also has used the pugnacious private eye in an unusual capacity.

Los Angeles attorney Barry Rothman said in an interview that Fields once referred him to Pellicano to handle negotiations in a case of alleged child molestation. That happened in 1993, when Rothman represented the father of a boy allegedly molested by singer Michael Jackson, a Fields client, who also was represented by Ovitz’s Creative Artists Agency.

When he contacted Fields to discuss the allegations, Rothman said, the entertainment attorney directed him to Pellicano.

“He just told me that’s the way it’s going to be,” Rothman recalled. “He said, ‘If you’re gonna talk to anybody, you’re gonna talk to Anthony Pellicano, not me. You have to speak to him – only. With a capital O.’ ”

 

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