By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Pellicano case is important to Los Angeles’ secret dream life because it is the latest installment of the Permanent Trial — that unique and never-ending proceeding involving the entertainment industrial complex. As American media have increasingly become celebrity-centric, L.A.’s local news outlets have made sure that at any given moment there is a spotlight on some scandalous misconduct on the part of some glamour-industry figure.
It’s not really important that old men such as Robert Blake, Phil Spector or Anthony Pellicano don’t generate much viewer heat — the important thing is that there be something to fit in between the newest shenanigans of Britney, Lindsay or Paris.
The prosecution’s lead-off witness was baseball slugger Matt Williams, who relayed how he’d hired the P.I. to spy on his ex-wife Tracie. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders played a recording, made surreptitiously by Pellicano, of a phone conversation between the investigator and the former third-baseman.
During their talk, Pellicano can be heard throwing out another option — tapping the phone line of Williams’ wife at the time, actress Michelle Johnson. (Williams declines.) Besides demonstrating that Pellicano would record conversations with clients without their permission, the recording also demonstrated his willingness to tap the phone lines of others. The playback also suggested the source of Pellicano’s wealth — many unhappy people with lots of money who have wanted to learn the innermost thoughts of their spouses, business associates or foes.
“I always thought he was a pain in the ass,” trial spectator and private investigator John Nazarian said of Pellicano during a break. “But he was a smart pain in the ass.”
PELLICANO’S CROSS-EXAMINATION of an FBI agent who’d participated in a 2002 search of the P.I.’s office, however, revealed that in representing himself at trial, Pellicano risks coming across to the judge and jury as a grumpy old man who can’t find his page in an evidence binder.
Pellicano’s much-anticipated opening statement lasted all of nine minutes, half of it seemingly consisting of his rephrasing of his sentences, under Judge Fischer’s prodding, in order to refer to himself in the third person. Standing at the lectern in his green windbreaker, amid a courtroom filled with suits, Pellicano looked like a little-league coach who was about to scold a losing team.
Day two saw the appearance of former Pellicano employee Tarita Virtue, an “actress, model and spokesperson” who wore noticeably more clothing than she displays on her Web site. The pneumatic bombshell’s testimony proved explosive as she described a “war room” whose five iMacs continually recorded “tons and tons of phone calls,” as well as credit-card and banking transactions. Virtue also confirmed a list provided by the prosecution of Telesleuth’s subject-file passwords, which included such unforgettable strings as “Bold Cocksucker Omerta,” “Prince of Islam Shit Omerta” and “Catholic Girl Reporter.” One subject-file password, related to actor Tom Cruise (in a case codenamed “Sissy”), was “Cruise Missile Omerta.”
“His clients loved him while they needed him,” attorney Pellicano had generously said of defendant Pellicano during the former’s opening statement. If testimony continues along these lines, however, Pellicano will not only have to learn to refer to himself in the third person, but also in the past tense.
* Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Mark Arneson's name.