The federal trial of private eye Anthony Pellicano and his co-defendant, super-lawyer Terry Christensen, resumed this week after a long, 10-day break. In some ways the case, in which the two men are charged with wiretapping and conspiracy, resembles one of those fish-out-of-water buddy movies from long ago, with a street-savvy gumshoe handcuffed to the cautious head of a white-shoe, Century City law firm.
Thursday’s session featured many a playback of phone calls between Pellicano and Christensen, apparently recorded by Pellicano without the knowledge of the man who’d hired him on behalf of then-octogenarian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. The lawyer and detective are heard cackling like a pair of teenagers about the predicament of Kerkorian’s ex-wife, Lisa Bonder, who, in 2002, was putting the bite on Kerkorian to boost his monthly child support for their daughter Kira from $50,000 to $320,000. Unknown to her, the government alleges, Pellicano’s wiretaps allowed Christensen to learn everything about her legal strategy – along with which antidepressants (Paxil) she was taking at the time.
Kira, it turned out, was actually the love child of real estate heir and sometime Hollywood producer Steve Bing.
Christensen’s appraisal of Bonder is clear from the start.
“She’s a scumbag,” he tells the sympathetic Pellicano. “She’s just a complete piece of shit.”
This assessment enflames Pellicano on the recording.
“I just don’t understand,” he says, “why [Kerkorian] doesn’t destroy her . . . I would put her down, period . . . Both of her legs should be knocked out from under her.”
“It’s not his thing,” Christensen explains.
One thing has become clear from the start of this trial: The defense, headed by Terree Bowers and Christensen law partner Patty Glaser, is trying to portray Pellicano as a man of unscrupulously divided loyalties -- between an allegiance to client Steve Bing and to Kerkorian. And, sure enough, on the recordings whenever Christensen disparages Bing, Pellicano rushes to the latter’s defense, insisting, against all evidence, that Bonder became impregnated with Kira by artificial insemination – and not the old fashioned way, with Bing’s help.
Even when it becomes public knowledge that Bing fathered children with both Bonder and British actress Elizabeth Hurley, Pellicano tries to imagine how Kira might not have been his client’s knowing fault.
“A guy who fucks as many women as he does,” Pellicano admiringly postulates to Christensen, “— he might’ve gotten back in bed with her when his dick was still wet . . . do you understand?” Pellicano leaves the rest of this ambiguous scenario up to the lawyer’s imagination.
“Things can happen,” the attorney admits. Earlier, though, Christensen showed no sympathy for Bing.
“Here’s a guy,” Christensen had marveled, “who wants his privacy and then sues [actress Brenda Swanson] for saying they had sex with one another.” A thin smile then spread across Christensen’s lips as he listened to his own words from six years ago.
Another light moment came when, on the recordings, Christensen mentions the remarkable coincidence that his wife, Patricia (who was in court this day), had been shopping in a Robertson Boulevard boutique when the store’s facialist confided to her that Bonder had “been picking her face to pieces.”
One peculiar fog-of-war moment came when Pellicano was trying to persuade Christensen of the need to flip Bonder’s gofer, Frank Castelluccio, to Kerkorian’s side.
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“I don’t like flighty fags,” says Christensen, pushing aside Pellicano’s suggestion.
“He’s got this little fag boyfriend,” Pellicano mentions, “and they’re trying to start a flower shop.”
Soon, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders was calling the subject of their derision to the witness stand. Frank Castelluccio, who now works as a real estate agent in New York, said that he indeed had once planned to open a flower shop/antique store with his partner, Jorge. However, the name Pellicano associated with Castelluccio, “Miguel,” was not the projected co-owner.
“Miguel was my dog,” Castelluccio said – and then choked from the memory of his pet’s many illnesses, until a court clerk arrived with a box of Kleenex. The impression left by Saunders’ direct examination of Lisa Bonder’s gofer was clear – Pellicano could have only gleaned such information by listening to recordings of Castelluccio’s phone calls made from Bonder’s Beverly Hills home and, because they were recorded out of context, had no idea that Miguel was literally a pet name.