Hollywood's Private Detective to the Stars On Trial

Anthony Pellicano is on trial in Los Angeles. He's charged with running a criminal enterprise that illegally wiretapped the personal and legal adversaries of his high-powered clients. Those clients included Hollywood stars and power players.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Many in Hollywood are closely watching the trial of Anthony Pellicano, known as the private detective to the stars. His many clients range from former super-agent Michael Ovitz to comedian Chris Rock. Pellicano is now in prison, accused of wiretapping and other misconduct. NPR's Kim Masters reports the case is bringing many power players to the witness stand.

KIM MASTERS: He doesn't look so tough sitting at a table in the federal courtroom, balding, bespectacled, wearing a prison-issue, olive-drab windbreaker, but an array of witnesses has testified about being spied on, harassed and threatened.

Some are rich and powerful victims of the alleged illegal wiretapping. Others are rich and powerful clients on whose behalf the alleged wiretapping occurred.

Pellicano is acting as his own counsel and so far, he seems to be launching a rather limited defense. The gist seems to be that he did his job well.

(Soundbite of phone recorded conversation)

Ms. COURTNEY LOVE (Actress, Musician): Hi.

Mr. ANTHONY PELLICANO (Private Detective): Courtney.

Ms. LOVE: Hi.

Mr. PELLICANO: Hi, honey, how are you?

Ms. LOVE: I'm okay.

MASTERS: No really big stars have appeared in court yet, but tapes of phone conversations between Pellicano and his clients, apparently recorded by Pellicano himself, have leaked to the Huffington Post Web site. They seem to show how Pellicano played his tough-guy role, as he does here for the benefit of Courtney Love.

(Soundbite of phone recorded conversation)

Mr. PELLICANO: Now, if I can determine that I can trust you, you know, we have a meeting, there are lots of things that I can do for you. But all of these conversations have to be between you and I. You cannot betray me. You understand? You cannot have conversations…

Ms. LOVE: I like talking to an Italian.

Mr. PELLICANO: Sicilian.

Ms. LOVE: Well, that's even better.

MASTERS: Pellicano's sound isn't always pristine, certainly not in this tape, in which he assures panic-stricken comedian Chris Rock that he will take down a woman who threatened Rock with a rape allegation. No charges were ever filed in the matter.

(Soundbite of phone recorded conversation)

Mr. CHRIS ROCK (Actor, Comedian): Once, you know, you're accused of rape, it's just (censored). It's just (censored).

Mr. PELLICANO: I know, that's why I want to blacken this girl up, totally. You know, I want to make her out to be a lying scumbag (censored). That's what I want.

MASTERS: For years, many in Hollywood devoutly hoped the Pellicano case would turn into a sensation. They wanted to see some Hollywood power-brokers turning on the legal spit, like former super-agent Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey, who runs Paramount Pictures. Both benefited from Pellicano's services, and both have said they knew nothing about any alleged illegal acts.

If they're being less than truthful, it seems the U.S. attorney can't prove it. They haven't been charged, and neither has their lawyer, Bert Fields. Fields is another prominent Hollywood player with a star clientele that includes Tom Cruise. When sticky legal situations arose, Fields routinely hired Pellicano, but he, too, says he has no knowledge of wrongdoing.

With all these hotshots apparently walking away, many in Hollywood have found the trial to be disappointing but still intriguing. And certainly, the allegations presented by the U.S. attorney should concern anyone, even if they can't find Sunset Boulevard without a map.

If prosecutors are right, Pellicano infiltrated the police department and the phone company, rummaging at will through personal information, and he got away with it for years. Kim Masters, NPR News.

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