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
THERE’S SOMETHING REASSURINGLY PORNOGRAPHIC about the Pellicano trial. The prosecutors try to fix its narrative somewhere in the dry, shifting dunes of purloined DMV and crime-database printouts, but the whiff of sex wafts over testimony like cheap perfume. Think Judgment at Nuremberg directed by Russ Meyer. Tales of adultery, rape and office romance among both the mighty and the lowly have filled the trial’s transcripts.
Take the story of Gaye Lynn Palazzo, the ditzy former Pellicano bookkeeper who allegedly stuffed envelopes full of cash for her boss’s black-bag operatives. Given to credibly answering prosecution questions with “I’m drawing a blank,” Palazzo described her relationship with a Pellicano co-defendant as “98 percent physical” — leaving us to ponder what could possibly have happened in the remaining 2 percent of their time together.
Yet sex isn’t everything — there’s also the pornography of power, which arrived during the prosecution’s final days in the form of Michael Ovitz, the Hollywood mogul who looked and sounded for all his money like a Midwestern accountant.
With $75,000 of his own cash, Ovitz hired Anthony Pellicano in April 2002, he said, to find out who was “sourcing” negative articles about Ovitz and his imploding Artists Management Group. The next month one of AMG’s law firms, Gorry Meyer & Rudd, kicked in another 75 G’s in three checks. The journalists in question were then–New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub and L.A. Times contract writer Anita Busch, who’d also co-written pieces on Ovitz and AMG for The New York Times.
“They have a reason for having Ovitz up here and it has nothing to do with this trial,” one of the defense attorneys told me about the government’s intentions. “They want him to testify so the government can reopen the five-year statute of limitations on him. Think Barry Bonds.”
This tantalizing scenario means that if the government finds any inconsistencies between Ovitz’s previous grand-jury testimony and what he said this week, he may well later find himself sitting where Pellicano does today. Unlike many of the government’s witnesses, Ovitz was never charged with a crime or offered immunity from prosecution. In fact, the rule of thumb here has been that the bigger the fish, the wider the hole in the net for them to escape through.
This was also the case for billionaire Alec Gores, who hired Pellicano to spy on his wife, Lisa, who was allegedly sleeping with his richer, younger brother Tom. Likewise with entertainment superlawyer Bert Fields, who practically used Pellicano as his law firm’s house detective. And the same goes for Canadian media heiress Taylor Thomson, who allegedly used Pellicano to destroy the life of one of her children’s nannies during a bitter divorce.
All of these illustrious people claimed they simply didn’t know Pellicano was doing anything illegal on their behalf.
And yet, the prosecutors claim, Pellicano’s mandate was to dig deeply into the pasts of his clients’ foes, beneath the topsoil of public record, to find any drunken-driving charges, abortions, allegations of sexual misconduct or financial impropriety — not because such scenarios would have any bearing on whatever legal case was pending, but because of the unstated blackmail potential they’d offer the owner of such knowledge. That was where the real power lay — in information that was available to only a few men and women with the right connections and enough cash.
“Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption,” says Governor Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. The governor tells the novel’s narrator, JackBurden, to find some dirt on an opponent because he knows that every person harbors a crime that can be used against him. “There is always something,” Stark tells Burden, who then recalls, “And he told me to dig it out, dig it up, the dead cat with patches of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen dove-gray hide.”
“I FELT I WAS GOING TO DIE. I THOUGHT, ‘This is how it ends — in front of a stupid apartment building,’ ” Anita Busch recalled, sobbing, of the moment she claimed a car sped toward her as she walked to her rented car in Hollywood one August morning in 2002.
It was the melodramatic vandalizing of Busch’s Audi two months before (a scrawled order to “stop,” accompanied by a dead fish and a red rose) that drew the FBI into a crime that eventually lead them to Pellicano Investigative Agency Ltd. and the roundup of Pellicano and four associates, all of whom are standing trial today. Busch says she barely got into her rental when the Mercedes pulled up alongside it and a man “with this really sickening smile” made a gesture of silence and goodbye, as she felt something warm run down her leg.