Former LA cop charged in wiretap didn't take bribes

April 11, 2008 6:04:43 PM PDT
A former Los Angeles police sergeant charged in a federal wiretapping case testified Friday that he ran names through criminal databases for an indicted private eye but didn't accept bribes for the work. Defendant Mark Arneson said he knew accessing people's private information was improper but thought it would bring only minor punishment, such as a reprimand.

"Yes, I crossed the line," Arneson said.

Arneson is accused of taking bribes in excess of $180,000 as part of a scheme orchestrated by private eye Anthony Pellicano that used clandestine tactics to dig up dirt to aid clients in legal and other disputes.

All five co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Arneson testified that the money he received from Pellicano was for off-duty security work that included escorting stars to award shows and conducting surveillance.

"The payments you received were never in connection" with running names in databases, his defense attorney, Chad Hummel, said during questioning.

"That's correct," Arneson replied.

Arneson said Pellicano didn't tell him why he wanted the names run through the databases, or how the information would be used.

In some cases, Pellicano had information before the data was accessed, Arneson said.

"I was affirming information he already had," Arneson testified. "I was eliminating his legwork."

Earlier in the day, an FBI agent testified that he was unable to decrypt some audio files seized during raids on the offices of Pellicano that began in November 2002.

Agent Donald Schmidt was the only witness called by Pellicano, who is acting as his own attorney. Pellicano reserved the right to testify on his own behalf later in the trial.

Lawyers for the other defendants also had cases to present.

Pellicano questioned Schmidt, an Internet technology specialist, for about an hour. The agent testified that he was instructed to look for calls that had been wiretapped among the recordings.

He said he was unable to listen to some of the encrypted calls.

"Did you find any evidence of wiretaps?" Pellicano asked.

"I found what sounded like telephone recordings," Schmidt replied.

During the trial, prosecutors played at least six recordings of calls between Pellicano and clients but only one tape they characterized as a wiretap.