Hollywood strives to keep its secrets

A private eye to the stars, jailed 10 years ago for Mafia-style activities, he could spill plenty of beans if he regains his freedom

Los Angeles

Be afraid. Anthony Pellicano, the ruthless private eye who worked for the biggest names in entertainment, could soon be free to walk the streets of the town that trusted him with its dirtiest secrets.

Tomorrow, in a federal court a short drive from Hollywood, lawyers will seek his immediate release from the prison cell where he has spent the past decade. The hearing should revolve around whether the 68-year-old Pellicano, who once admitted that a Louisville Slugger baseball bat was among the tools of his trade, still represents a potential danger to society.

It will be closely watched by dozens of A-list former clients, said to have included Chris Rock, Kevin Costner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the former heads of at least two major film studios. Some will be hoping that prosecutors succeed in keeping him locked up for at least seven more years and, possibly, the rest of his life.

Pellicano's empire fell apart in late 2002, when the FBI found hundreds of hours of illegally recorded telephone conversations, along with hand grenades and enough plastic explosive to bring down a passenger jet. Since then, he has been behind bars almost constantly, and in 2008 was convicted of 78 separate crimes, largely related to racketeering and wire-tapping. The court sentenced him to 15 years, meaning that he wouldn't be free until 2019.

Steven Gruel, Pellicano's attorney, who filed an appeal against the conviction in 2010, will today argue that prosecutors have deliberately dragged their feet and that his client should therefore be freed until it's heard. "Why should this man remain languishing in prison when the government has already spent two years responding to his appeal?" said Mr Gruel.

His appeal argument revolves around two recent Supreme Court decisions which, he says, redefined the legal definitions of "computer fraud" and "honest services". Those redefinitions "completely eviscerate the government's conviction" of Pellicano, he claims. Pellicano's bail request is opposed by prosecutors. They argue that he could end up selling his life story, getting even with the witnesses who helped convict him, or even going back into business as a crooked private eye.

"That's nonsense," Nr Gruel countered. "Mr Pellicano's investigative work took place more than 10 years ago, at the behest of clients. He no longer has his company. He no longer has clients. He has no desire or means to be out investigating people willy-nilly."

The imprisonment of Pellicano has been a relief for celebrity clients, because it has largely taken him out of circulation. However, last year he agreed to an interview behind bars with Newsweek which provided an insight into the seamier side of Hollywood. "If you saw the stuff I found in celebrity homes: cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy, vials of narcotics..." he said at one point. "There was a doctor shooting up celebrities with morphine for $350."

Although he refused to name names, citing the Mafia code of omertà, Pellicano did reveal that, in the early 1990s, he helped discredit an erotic wrestler who falsely claimed to have had a gay affair with Tom Cruise. Pellicano added that he'd also worked for Michael Jackson during his 1993 child-molestation case, but "I quit because I found out some truths … He did something far worse to young boys than molest them."

At least one former victim opposes his release. Anita Busch, a Los Angeles Times reporter who found a dead fish on her car when she was investigating alleged links between a colleague of Steven Segal and the Gambino Mafia family, told the Hollywood Reporter: "If you're dealing with a sociopath, which is what he is, you cannot predict his behaviour."

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