"I'm not a warm fuzzy type," Judge Dale Fischer told Kevin Kachikian at his sentencing today. As an understatement, the icy jurist's comment ranks just below, "Houston, we have a problem." But there was no need to point this out to Kachikian - he knew all about it.
Last year he was one of five men, including celebrity private eye Anthony Pellicano, who stood trial in a racketeering and wiretapping extravaganza that played out in Fischer's courtroom. As in any caper movie, each man had brought a specific skill to the party. Pellicano was the tough-talking detective at home as both a Hollywood fixeur and law enforcement helper. Mark Arneson was the cop who provided DMV and criminal database info to Pellicano, while Ray Turner was the hands-on technician who installed the wiring necessary for Pellicano to eavesdrop on his targets' phone conversations for clients like Abner Nicherie, who'd hired him to illegally tap the calls of business rivals.
Kachikian was the brain - or rather, the nerdy computer wiz who brought to life Pellicano's idea for the TeleSleuth computer program that allowed him to tap and digitally record calls from the comfort of his Sunset Boulevard office. Kachikian was something of an anomaly: Although his co-defendants were found guilty on virtually every count with which they were charged, he was able to beat nine of the wiretapping counts he faced. Unfortunately for Kachikian, two of the charges that stuck to him - construction of an illegal wiretapping device and conspiracy - carried serious prison time. Today his attorney, Adam Braun, made a pitch for Fischer to treat these crimes as "regulatory offenses" that merited only probation.
Kachikian himself read a one-page statement requesting leniency - "My blinders are off," he said, repeating his longstanding claims that he knew nothing of Pellicano's illegal wiretapping activities.
Co-prosecutor Kevin Lally dismissed Kachikian's claims of ignorance.
"It's a time-honored tradition among Pellicano defendants," Lally said, "to deny responsibility and instead accuse others of wrongdoing."
A tall, gentle figure with a shaved head, Kachikian had arrived this morning as though it were a kind of Casual Monday, attired in the same kind of sweater and khakis, sox 'n sandals outfit he wore during the trial. Today he even threw in a beaded necklace. It didn't help. Fischer threw 27 months in prison Kachikian's way and seemed to be inclined to remand him into federal custody on the spot - as she had with the other defendants after their sentencings.
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As Braun then appealed for his client to remain free during appeal on the $100,000 bond that had allowed him to move at will during the trial, Kachikian's wife gently wept. A woman friend who arrived in court carrying a teddy bear held the wife's hand, while another woman sat, eyes closed, her palms opened skyward.
Judge Fischer allowed how she wasn't taken in by the naive computer nerd persona Kachikian had projected, adding he had to have known TeleSleuth was intended for illegal use. She accused him of committing perjury when he testified last year, but when Kachikian's elderly mother, Lydia, told Fischer she was willing to double the amount of bond her Fountain Valley home had provided her son, the judge relented. She gave Braun a week to come up with an arrangement that would increase Kachikian's bond as a way to allow him to remain free while he appeals his sentence. This was a gesture none of the other defendants had received. Perhaps Judge Fischer was getting warm and fuzzy without realizing it.
Just how much so will be seen by the case's remaining suspects - all of who escaped inclusion in Pellicano's RICO trial by pleading out and cooperating with the government - who will receive their sentences next month. At the end of today's hearing Kachikian and his supporters enjoyed an emotional hug-a-thon outside Fischer's courtroom. Clearly Adam Braun had been expecting the worst.
"I had to put on my emotional bullet-proof vest," he said.