Anthony Pellicano, onetime “P.I. to the Stars,” was convicted today of 76 of the 77 counts he faced for racketeering, wire fraud and identity theft. As Judge Dale Fischer began reading the first of the jury’s guilty verdicts at 12:15 p.m., Pellicano displayed the stoic bravado he showed throughout the nine-week trial. However, by Count 24, when it was clear he was doomed, Pellicano turned away from the jury and toward the packed court gallery, as though searching for some impossible deliverance.
A disappointed defense attorney Chad Hummel, who represented former LAPD sergeant Mark Arneson, meets the press
Photo: Steven Mikulan
The weather in Room 890 of the Roybal Federal Building had been completely different shortly before court began, as Pellicano hugged defense lawyer Adam Braun and smiled to well-wishers, including his wife Kat. Still, co-defendant Mark Arneson’s wife looked teary-eyed as she left her permanently frowning husband to sit among the spectators. Soon the defense attorneys began avoiding eye contact with others in the room. A sense of suppressed dread settled over the defendants’ dock, in contrast to the government side, whose prosecutors Dan Saunders and Kevin Lally appeared optimistic, if not cocky – although Saunders tempted the fates by wearing a light-colored suit on judgment day.
Jurors had passed a note to Judge Dale Fischer at 11:15 a.m., informing her they’d reached a verdict – but wanted to bring it in after lunch. (Who said there’s no free lunch in this town any more?)
“We hadn’t eaten breakfast and were hungry!” juror Elaine Jordison later told the L.A. Weekly. Of all those on the jury panel, Jordison, who was Juror No. Seven, lived the farthest from Los Angeles, in the small San Luis Obispo County town of Templeton. For Jordison, the trial, with its soap operatic display of wealth, infidelity and courtroom histrionics, may as well have taken place on Mars.
“We had Christian values, we wake up wanting to be healthy and happy and to go to work,” she said of her fellow jurors, before describing the witnesses and the victims of Pellicano’s wiretaps: “They were spiritually robbed and empty people. They write checks for $100,000 the way we would for $100.”
Judge Fischer began with Pellicano. Most of the charges against him and his closest collaborator, Arneson, involved unauthorized access of U.S. agencies, identity theft, interception of wire communication, computer fraud and denial of what are called “honor services,” meaning the corruption of public services (i.e., crime data bases and DMV records) by their diversion through criminal activity. Pellicano, Arneson and former telephone company technician Ray Turner were also on the hook for racketeering under federal RICO statutes – if the government proved these men had entered into a conspiracy to benefit a criminal enterprise, they’d face much heavier sentences.
Again and again the now-familiar names of the famous and obscure alike dolorously rang out in Fischer’s metallic voice, a kind of church roll call whose names of martyrs included actors Keith Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, comedian Garry Shandling and Hollywood agents Kevin Huvane and Bryan Lourd – all of whom had either had their phones tapped or their most personal information siphoned into the Pellicano Investigative Agency’s hard drives.
At 12:40 Fischer read Pellicano’s last guilty verdict and asked the 64-year-old investigator, who’d served as his own attorney during the trial, if he wanted the jurors polled individually. A legal amateur to the very end, he declined, though the lawyers representing his co-defendants insisted on the polling for their clients.
A similarly massive number of guilty verdicts were next read against Pellicano’s close collaborator, former LAPD sergeant Arneson, who was accused of tapping into the criminal and DMV databases. Pellicano’s interest now seemed to wane but, gentleman that he is, he remained politely still, like an old uncle forced to watch a nephew perform in a bad community theater production. Next came Ray Turner, who managed to beat four charges but nevertheless was convicted of 13 counts.
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If there was a silver lining for the defense, it came for attorney Adam Braun’s client, Kevin Kachikian. Kachikian, who had devised the Telesleuth software that allowed Pellicano to conduct, record and listen to wiretaps from the comfort of his Sunset Boulevard office, beat nine charges, only to be convicted of conspiracy to wiretap and of the manufacture and possession of an illegal wiretapping device. Finally, Las Vegas resident Abner Nicherie, an Israeli national, ate the single count he was charged with, involving conspiracy to wiretap a business rival. Nicherie, who’d seemed like a bored, middle-aged teenager throughout most of the trial, closed his eyes shut upon hearing the news. His mother, Orah, had attended every day of her son’s trial. Today she was absent.
Five minutes later, at 1:15 p.m., the jurors were heading home, with only a handful remaining. According to Jordison, they wanted to speak to the defense attorneys; instead, they found themselves the unwanted focus of a small army of media reporters and of lawyers representing interests in the spin-off lawsuits that loom ahead. Back in the courtroom defense attorneys made pro forma motions to have their clients severed from the case that had just concluded, or acquitted, to no avail.
Tomorrow night reporters covering the trial will celebrate the end of the long proceedings; the jurors plan a barbecue reunion in July. The next time the defendants appear all together will be at their September 15 sentencing, though the hearing over the forfeiture of the RICO defendants’ assets will come much sooner.
Journalist Anita Busch’s name had been one of those that tolled during Fischer’s reading of the verdicts, though she had been unknown to the jurors before the trial began. It was the crude attempt to intimidate Busch in 2002, by leaving a dead fish on her cracked car windshield, that began the long investigations that led the five men to the dock today. Busch had sat in court in a blue T-shirt for the hour it took for Fischer to read all the verdicts. Her face was a grim mask that was not quite a smile, nor quite a frown. Her expression was not ambiguous, though: She was satisfied.