Trial Rumbles on for Hollywood P.I. Pellicano

John Connolly is a journalist with Vanity Fair and he's writing a book about former Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano, who is facing federal racketeering and wiretapping charges.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MIKE PESCA, host:

It is the third week of deliberations in the trial of a man who was once called "private investigator to the stars," Anthony Pellicano. There are elements of celebrity, subterfuge and tabloid sensationalism in this case. And yet, Pellicano was already convicted of something else. And what's the evidence that Anthony Pellicano stands for something larger than just being one very sleazy operator? In short, this case makes it time to trot out the BPP's signature segment, Make Me Care. John Connolly is our guest. He is a journalist with Vanity Fair. He's writing a book about Pellicano. Hello, John.

Mr. JOHN CONNOLLY (Journalist, Vanity Fair): Good morning.

PESCA: John, am I having some deja vu? I get the distinct feeling that we actually sat through a pretty long Pellicano trial, right?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yes, you did. I think the trial was about seven weeks in length.

PESCA: And when he was convicted already once, what were the charges then?

Mr. CONNOLLY: No. He was convicted once. I think you're referring to the original case, five years ago, where he was charged with possession of explosives, C-4 and hand grenades. That case was only two days.

PESCA: And so as he - that case took two days, but he was convicted in that case?

Mr. CONNOLLY: He took a plea.

PESCA: He took a plea, and so that's why, in this case, he's wearing - what? Not a prison jumpsuit, but prison-issued garb?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Yes.

PESCA: So what are the - why is he on trial? I mean, why did he take a plea? What has Anthony Pellicano been up to?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, the first time he took a plea because the evidence was overwhelming, and after the morning and a half of testimony, he realized that he was going to lose, so he tried to make the best deal he could and I think he got 27 months, approximately. And this time, he felt that he would be a better lawyer than all the other lawyers who volunteered to help him out.

PESCA: And so, but before we get to the Make Me Care segment, let's just lay out some of the facts and some of the background.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Sure.

PESCA: You know, tell the audience who Anthony Pellicano is, who his clients were, and what sorts of things was he up to.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Anthony Pellicano had been a private investigator in Los Angeles for 20 years or thereabouts. And he was the go-to guy if you had a problem and you wanted it taken care of. Whether legally or extralegally, you didn't care, you would hire Anthony Pellicano. And that went for the attorneys and also for some very healthy clients. Tom Cruise, Stallone, oh God, Kevin Costner, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Taylor, Chris Rock...

PESCA: They all hired Pellicano. What did they get for their services, for their money?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, they got quite a lot in some ways, and apparently, they also got more than they bargained for. He would occasionally tape his clients, unbeknownst to them, and the Feds have played a lot of those tapes for the public to hear and they're not very complimentary or flattering to these people.

PESCA: And he's alleged he sometimes used - what? Fish as an intimidation method? He sometimes...

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, it's more than alleged. I mean, the sad part about this is a lot of people's lives have been inexorably changed, not for the good. When you're really terrorized to the point of being on the run and not knowing who to trust, I mean, that can change your life terribly, and he did that. He also was wiretapping people, and when you don't know who to trust and what's going on, that's a very disconcerting thing.

PESCA: So I guess the big issue here, for this being a story that goes beyond tabloid sensationalism is, is Anthony Pellicano just one bad guy? Or does he stand for something more? And so that'll be the assignment, as we put 60 seconds on the clock. And when you hear loud ticking, you'll have only ten more seconds to make your case as we ask you, Anthony Pellicano trial, Make Me Care. Go ahead.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, Anthony Pellicano is little more than a street thug from Chicago who had a facility for wiretapping, and he had no moral compass whatsoever. And some of the biggest names, the biggest stars, biggest celebrities in Hollywood, and some of the richest people in L.A. employed him to do whatever it took to change people's minds about a lawsuit. Whether it was to get people to surrender, whether it was to uncover sexual dirt on people, and the client list includes some rather odd names.

The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a client of Anthony Pellicano's. In fact, it's very odd that, in light of a story that I wrote in Premiere Magazine about Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was planning on running which disabused him of that knowledge the first time, he hired Pellicano to go back and try and sanitize his record. And he used some really horrible people to do that. The other side of the coin, which is really most distressing, is that Anthony Pellicano helped corrupt the legal system, if it ever really existed in Los Angeles.

PESCA: All right, finish up your point because the time is done, but you are on a roll. Go ahead. Keep going.

Mr. CONNOLLY: What happened was lawyers who were supposedly the smartest boys in the room and the most successful boys in the room used Anthony Pellicano to know what their adversaries were doing. Now they all claim that they didn't know that. Well, either they're not the smartest boys in the room or they did know. So if they weren't the smartest and they didn't know this, then we should make them all wear dunce caps at Bar Association meetings.

PESCA: So the people who hired Pellicano, how come they're not on trial?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Because I think the government missed them and they didn't do a great job.

PESCA: And was he low-hanging fruit? If so, speaking of not the smartest guy in the room, he wasn't as great a private investigator - maybe he was a good investigator, but he didn't keep things private as much as he purported to.

Mr. CONNOLLY: No. He didn't. He wasn't a good private investigator. What he was good at was wiretapping, and you get lots more information from illegally wiretapping clients - someone who's - and their lawyers, so you know what they're doing. It's really a horrific effect when that happens.

PESCA: So give me a sense of, if you attended the trial day in, day out, or at least through closing statements, what's the tone of things like, especially with this guy representing himself?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Very frankly, I've had - my book should be out the end of the year, but I had to go back and do a lot of work. I gave him a lot - well, I had never met Mr. Pellicano, and I gave him a lot more credit for being smarter than I thought he was. And when I saw him in action representing himself, the guy was just dumber than I ever thought. He would ask questions which, you know, a kid from the streets would not ask. He would repeatedly put himself in such bad situations with asking questions, particularly of women victims, that he just would stick his little chin out and they'd just take a whack at it.

PESCA: He would just, in your opinion, make himself unsympathetic to the jury?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Beyond. It was just really foolish questions.

PESCA: And so, if this - if he's convicted, you know, will things change in Hollywood in terms of intimidation as a means to get your story out?

Mr. CONNOLLY: Well, I think it's going to take a while before we find somebody who was, you know, totally immoral and totally unethical to the point of probably being, I guess, psychotic, who will risk his career by doing some of these things in Hollywood. But eventually somebody will come along, we know that.

PESCA: All right. Well, I've got to say, I was compelled. Rachel?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Not so much. I've got to be honest with you. But it's OK. We don't always have to agree.

PESCA: OK. But it wasn't for John's lack of trying.

MARTIN: It wasn't. No.

PESCA: John Connolly, a journalist with Vanity Fair; he's writing a book about the former Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano, who's facing federal racketeering and wiretapping charges. Thank you very much, John.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Listen, have a great day.

PESCA: All right.

MARTIN: Thanks, John.

Mr. CONNOLLY: Bye.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.