Case Against Private Eye Rattles Hollywood

Variety reporter, Janet Shprintz tells Scott Simon about a scandal that's gripping Los Angeles: the 110-count indictment of Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano. He's accused of eavesdropping on many stars.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

If you can believe several current Hollywood films, this country's run by greedy men who trample ruthlessly on the rights of people, wiretapping, blackmailing, threatening. Well, it's easy to see how Hollywood can identify with that. The Pellicano case is smoldering, and the smoke is rising out of zip code 90210

This week, John McTiernan, who directed the move Die Hard, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about hiring Anthony Pellicano, who's often known in newspaper headlines as PI to the stars. Mr. Pellicano and six co-defendants have been indicted on 112 counts of wiretapping, bribery and conducting illegal background checks to get confidential information on dozens of celebrities and entertainment executives that could be used in civil or criminal cases. The judge has postponed the start of the trial until October.

Janet Shprintz is covering the case for Variety, and joins us from NPR West.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. JANET SHPRINTZ (Reporter, Variety): You're very welcome.

SIMON: So who are some of the people Mr. Pellicano has allegedly used his professional skills to eavesdrop on illegally?

Ms. SHPRINTZ: Well, some of the victims include Sylvester Stallone, Gary Shandling, and now we're finding out that he seemed to have both worked for Michael Ovitz and maybe wiretapped him too. And when Pellicano was finally indicted in February, the indictment included a long list of names of people who were either wiretapped or had illegal background checks run on them. And quite a few of them are associated with either Brad Gray or Michael Ovitz.

SIMON: Mmm. Did he wiretap people he was working for too?

Ms. SHPRINTZ: He seemed to do both. I don't know if it was just a compulsion, or you just didn't know when it would come in handy.

SIMON: What kind of information are we talking about potentially? Do you have any idea?

Ms. SHPRINTZ: Pellicano's MO seemed to be go dig up embarrassing information about my enemies. And the embarrassing information is the usual sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Simon: Mmm. Okay, I think we can all fill in those blanks and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHPRINTZ: And it turns out almost everybody had something in every one of those categories, whether it was a divorce, whether it was an actual litigation. And what's so interesting in the McKiernan...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SHPRINTZ: ...case is that there seems to have been no actual litigation. It was more along the lines of go find out what you can about this guy. Dig up some dirt.

SIMON: How did this case come to light?

Ms. SHPRINTZ: The summer of 2002, when a reporter, Anita Bush, who was working on story about Steven Seagal's mob connections, walked out one day to find her windshield cracked and a dead fish and a rose on her car with a note saying stop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SHPRINTZ: The interesting thing is the original threat to Anita remains a mystery. Pellicano's offices were raided in November 2002 because of the threat on Anita.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SHPRINTZ: And when they entered his offices, they found amazing things. They found a huge amount of explosives and other weapons. And this found this treasure trove of tapes. I mean, we're hearing that there are 10,000 hours of encrypted tapes.

SIMON: Anthony Pellicano, aside from maybe cultivating the image of PI to the stars, is considered a serious professional when it comes to wiretapping and other things. Isn't he? I mean, the FBI often consults him.

Ms. SHPRINTZ: Yes, the FBI consulted him. He, you know, he certainly has a reputation as, you know, a mastermind of technology with very sophisticated electronics.

SIMON: Is this affecting the industry right now that you can tell?

Ms. SHPRINTZ: I think it's the only thing anyone's talking about. You know, Pellicano, who was always known as the Pelican, was really kind of the octopus. I mean, he seemed to have his tentacles absolutely everywhere.

SIMON: Janet Shprintz, reporter for Variety, thanks very much.

Ms. SHPRINTZ: Thank you very much.

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