Anthony Pellicano cut a figure straight out of "L.A. Confidential." Intimidation for hire — the tough-talking gumshoe with the Louisville Slugger always at the ready.
Over the course of his 20-some years in Los Angeles, he also managed to insinuate himself into the New Hollywood — a place where ambition, rivalry and hardball tactics are as much an art form as a blood sport.
As names of grand jury witnesses, a subject of interest and those who were allegedly wiretapped surface, the complex web of those touched by Pellicano conjures up a not-so-distant period in which Hollywood, never the most peaceable kingdom, was embroiled in especially bitter feuds.
For years, Pellicano bragged loudly about his vast insider knowledge, and it helped make him a player in this world. He and Universal Studios President Ron Meyer, whose wife once worked as an office assistant for the private eye, power-lunched together, according to a source close to Meyer. Meyer and his wife declined to comment. Paramount Chairman Brad Grey, then a top talent manager, attempted to develop an HBO pilot with Pellicano about a Hollywood detective, according to several sources and a representative for Grey. Paparazzi snapped his photo with stars, and magazines and newspapers, including this one, wrote colorful stories about his exploits.
It's easy to see how Pellicano, with his alternately menacing and unctuous persona, would appeal to men in love with power. And Pellicano himself aped Hollywood's imperious style. A source who knew Pellicano well told The Times that she saw the private eye throw a plate across the room at then Hollywood hot spot Le Dome because the garlic across his spinach was chopped instead of sliced. Pellicano called the chef a profane name, the source recalled, then tipped the waiter $300.
Then in November 2002, Pellicano was arrested and later convicted of illegally possessing grenades and plastic explosives, and federal investigators began calling Hollywood heavyweights.
Celebrity litigator Bertram Fields, who has handled many of Hollywood's high-profile cases, was interviewed by the FBI and has since been told he's a subject of interest. Brian Sun, an attorney for Fields' firm, said Friday that attorneys for Fields and the firm have been in ongoing talks with the government "to resolve the suggestion, driven largely by the media, that Bert or anyone else at the firm engaged in any misconduct in their dealings with Pellicano."
Grey and Meyer, along with Creative Artists Agency founder Michael Ovitz, appeared before the grand jury as witnesses. One blue-chip figure has been arrested: Terry N. Christensen, the lawyer for billionaire Kirk Kerkorian for 30 years, was accused of conspiring with Pellicano to wiretap Kerkorian's former wife during a bitter custody dispute. On Tuesday, he entered a not-guilty plea.
Of Pellicano's connections within Hollywood, his defense attorney, Steven Gruel, said, "I believe he was a very successful private investigator and apparently had a very impressive clientele, and that's all I know."
Now most in town choose to keep their distance from Pellicano, although Meyer repeatedly trekked to a federal prison near Bakersfield to visit the disgraced private eye, according to sources.
The current indictment focuses on the years 1997 to 2002, when Hollywood was awash in a series of particularly vicious disputes. Some of those who the indictment alleges were wiretapped or the subject of unauthorized background checks were embroiled in litigation around that time with clients of Fields or his law firm. The vagaries of the federal case against Pellicano and speculation about what connection the various industry lawsuits might have to it have consumed Hollywood cognoscenti.
In six lawsuits, Fields and his Century City law firm — Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger and Kinsella — were representing clients, including Grey, against people whom Pellicano allegedly wiretapped or ran unauthorized background checks on around the same time. Ovitz's company, Artists Management Group, was litigating with two people, and Ovitz was involved in public disputes with four others that Pellicano is accused of improperly investigating.
Both Grey and Ovitz, through their representatives, have adamantly denied engaging in any of the alleged illegal activity with Pellicano. "Throughout the investigation the government has repeatedly assured Mr. Grey that he has no involvement other than as a potential witness," said Paramount spokeswoman Janet Hill.
Likewise, Ovitz's attorney, James Ellis, said that Ovitz "is advised that he is considered to be a witness in the proceedings." Fields has confirmed that federal investigators have told him he's a subject of interest in the inquiry, and Greenberg Glusker managing partner Norman Levine added: "Some members of our firm used Anthony Pellicano as an investigator. However, if Mr. Pellicano engaged in any illegal activity, he did so without their or the firm's knowledge."
For the moment, the private detective appears to have adopted a code of silence. In a 1993 Vanity Fair profile, Fields espoused his faith in Pellicano's loyalty: "I would bet my life and my child's life that Anthony would never betray someone he was working for."
Ironically, Pellicano might already have done so.
What the Christensen indictment suggests is that Pellicano taped not only his targets, but his employers too.
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