Prosecutor calls indicted private eye a 'well-paid thug'

April 29, 2008 6:16:00 PM PDT
Private investigator Anthony Pellicano was a "well-paid thug" who dug up dirt through wiretaps and other illegal means to benefit his Hollywood A-list clientele, a federal prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.

In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Saunders said jurors had been taken inside Pellicano's world during the two-month trial and shown how he illegally collected information for clients to use in legal and other disputes.

"Tires get slashed, computers get hacked, houses get broken into," Saunders said. "And of course, people's phones get wiretapped."

Saunders was scheduled to continue his argument Tuesday, with defense attorneys to follow.

Pellicano, 64, and four co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to a variety of charges. Pellicano, who is acting as his own attorney, is accused of leading a criminal enterprise that raked in more than $2 million by spying on Hollywood's rich and famous then supplying the dirt to their rivals.

Saunders said the government had proven its case by presenting documents, testimony from clients and alleged victims, and perhaps most importantly recordings made by the private investigator.

"When you get recordings of defendants engaging in criminal activity, there's not a whole lot they can do to get away from it," Saunders said.

Nearly all those recordings involved discussions between Pellicano and clients. Only one allegedly wiretapped call was played during the trial.

Saunders explained that computers weren't seized during the first of several searches of Pellicano's office because the warrant did not target the alleged wiretapping.

When authorities returned later with another warrant, "Mr.

Pellicano had cleaned house," Saunders said.

Saunders called former Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson, a co-defendant in the case, a "dirty cop" who sold his badge for the $2,500 a month Pellicano paid him to run names through law enforcement databases.

Saunders showed jurors copies of checks to Pellicano from clients or law firms. He then compared the dates of the payments to a police audit showing when names were run through databases by Arneson. In some cases, names were processed on the same day a payment was given to Pellicano.

U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer expects closing arguments to take about two days, with the jury likely to get the case later this week.

Comedian Chris Rock and one-time power agent Michael Ovitz testified during the trial about using the services of Pellicano.

Both said they knew nothing about his tactics.

Comedian Garry Shandling, an alleged victim, also took the witness stand.

Pellicano was accused of wiretapping the phone of Sylvester Stallone, but the "Rocky" star did not testify.