Hollywood cast lines up for real-life detective drama

The list reads like the credit roll from a 1980s movie: Sylvester Stallone, Farrah Fawcett and Keith Carradine. Instead they are the standout names from a five-page list of witnesses released on Thursday by prosecutors at the start of the long-awaited trial of Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano.

The 127 names also include comedians Chris Rock and Garry Shandling, as well Hollywood divorce lawyers and studio executives, among them the former or current heads of Disney, Universal and Paramount, all due to take the stand in the eight-week racketeering and wiretapping trial.

The prospect of some of Hollywood’s most connected figures testifying under oath about their relationship with Pellicano has kept Tinseltown abuzz with speculation.

Pellicano (63) with four other defendants, is charged with running a criminal enterprise that involved placing illegal phone taps on his clients’ enemies and opponents. If convicted on all charges he faces a jail term of up to 625 years.

”This is a case about corruption,” said prosecution attorney Kevin Lally, launching the case on Thursday. Clients ”would pay a premium fee to discredit, and in some cases destroy, their adversaries”.

Pellicano, who is representing himself, had been told by the judge to refer to himself in the third person in order to make matters easier for the jury to follow.

Dressed in green prison garb rather than his customary silk suits, Pellicano told the court that he recorded conversations to create a referencing system.

”His presumption was that these conversations would be made available to no one but him,” he said.

He also said that he prided himself on being a secretive person who treated his clients’ problems as his own.

The case began almost six years ago in typical Hollywood noir fashion: a dead fish and a rose left on the windscreen of a reporter’s car along with a note bearing the single word: Stop. The fish was left on the windscreen of a then Los Angeles Times reporter who investigators linked to Pellicano and his client, former Disney president Michael Ovitz. Prosecutors allege that after discussing who might be the source of bad press about Ovitz, Pellicano engaged in a criminal enterprise with a LAPD detective and a telephone company employee to gather information about the LA Times reporter. They also gathered information about a New York Times reporter who was the husband of Amy Pascal, then president of Columbia Pictures.

Ovitz, in common with other clients represented by Pellicano, has denied any knowledge of illegal wiretaps.

The only person to confess to being aware of Pellicano’s allegedly illegal tactics so far has been the Die Hard director, John McTiernan, who was charged with deliberately lying to investigators about his knowledge that Pellicano was illegally bugging one of his former producers. McTiernan was sentenced to four months in prison and is appealing over his guilty plea.

Sandra Will Carradine, ex-wife of the actor Keith Carradine and ex-girlfriend of Pellicano, has also pleaded guilty to lying to the authorities about the private investigator’s methods during her divorce from the actor. She is expected to testify at the trial.

The air of unpredictability surrounding the trial has been heightened by the delay in bringing the case to court and the defendant’s decision to jettison his lawyers and represent himself.

Shuffling into court, carrying his papers in a plastic bag, Pellicano cuts a very different figure to the fixture of the Hollywood circuit, friend of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Tom Cruise. Pellicano liked nicknames — The Celebrities’ Thug, The Ultimate Problem Solver, The Big Sleazy — and he liked to play the part of the Hollywood private dick: mirror shades, patent shoes, double-breasted suits and the thousand-yard stare.

”If you can’t sit down with a person and reason with them,” he once told an interviewer, ”there is only one thing left, and that’s fear.”

Deemed a flight risk, he has been denied bail and has to work on his case from his cell. It is a complex case, involving thousands of hours of transcripts, a phonetapping computer program called Telesleuth, and an insight into the workings of Hollywood’s rich and powerful. – guardian.co.uk Â

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