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Pellicano Trial's Freaky Friday

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Sat, Apr 19, 2008 at 1:30 AM

Pellicano Defense Finishes Its First Week

It’s a crime to lie to the FBI, so I won’t: The courtroom was bored to tears with Friday's appearance by its former special agent, Stanley Ornellas. A big man with a brutal face and soft voice, Ornellas was the bureau’s lead investigator into the case that began with the fish-and-rose combo placed on the Audi of L.A. Times reporter Anita Busch in June, 2002 – and whose investigation eventually led Ornellas to Anthony Pellicano. Ornellas, assigned to the FBI’s organized-crime unit in L.A., had earlier been tracking a well-oiled bookmaking operation on the Westside, during which he met LAPD vice sergeant Mark Arneson. The vice cop would later be accused of being a paid confederate of Pellicano’s, one who ran thousands of computer inquiries through law enforcement and DMV databases on Pellicano’s behalf.

Ornellas did not appear on the witness stand for the prosecution, however, but as part of Arneson’s defense. Arneson attorney Chad Hummel tried to show Ornellas rushed to judgment against his client by not tracking down evidence of Arneson’s innocence – specifically, by ignoring evidence that suggested that actor Steven Seagal or his associates may have been responsible for the intimidating gesture against Busch. Hummel also asked the former agent if he’d tried to match the myriad printout names of the individuals whose identity Arneson is accused of stealing, with the LAPD’s arrest logs for vice. Ornellas had not, although the question seemed somewhat disingenuous, given that Arneson had spent two days claiming that other people using his computer password had done all the digging.

One comical image emerged when, for the second time in this trial, it was brought out that long before the Pellicano bust, Ornellas and Arneson had discussed a tip that fugitive Boston crime king Whitey Bulger was about to drive an old bus from Venice to Mexico to pick up some unspecified medications. (That tip didn’t pan out.) Ornellas’ appearance on the stand really went south when co-defense counsel Mona Soo Hoo, representing Ray “Phone Guy” Turner, hijacked Ornellas’ appearance. She spent what a seething Judge Dale Fischer later called “an extraordinary amount of time” questioning the old FBI agent about the possibility that someone else besides Turner had placed the phone taps that were discovered on Busch’s phone lines – taps that connected the journalist’s phone and DSL lines to Pellicano’s Sunset Boulevard office. Soo Hoo’s basic tactic was to ask Ornellas if he had interviewed a milelong list of individuals connected with phone service in the Beverly Hills-Mid Wilshire area at the time of the vandalism of Busch’s car. You half-expected her to ask Ornellas if he had tried to channel the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell.

Eventually Ornellas was released from his tormentors and replaced by Bill Pavelic, an “investigative consultant” who said, in a raspy, sepulchral voice, that he had Pellicano fired from the defense case of accused Limousine Rapist John Gordon Jones. Pavelic, a former LAPD vice cop and a man of many strong opinions about the criminal justice system, began to discuss a “military mercenary” who works in the Los Angeles area when the prosecution objected and, shortly after a sidebar, was sent home. Other court visitors watched Pavelic’s departure enviously and the day resumed its slow, meandering pace with character testimony coming from Arneson’s former Pacific Division subordinates, who praised him – before Ornellas returned to finish up the day.

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