Kidman and Cruise drawn into tangled case of private eye

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The Independent US

The web of lies, betrayal and blackmail threats allegedly spun by Anthony Pellicano, the former Hollywood private detective now facing trial for conspiracy and illegal wire-tapping, is widening all the time. It now appears that Nicole Kidman was among those caught in its threads.

The Kidman twist is the latest in a story that has been the obsession of Hollywood since the start of the year. Ms Kidman, the Australian film star, has reportedly joined the ever-lengthening list of industry figures to have been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Pellicano case.

Others who have either been interviewed by detectives or called upon to appear before an investigating grand jury also reportedly include the actors Warren Beatty and Garry Shandling, as well as Brad Grey, the chairman of Paramount Pictures, and Mike Ovitz, the ex-talent agent.

Mr Pellicano used to be the most sought-after and powerful of private gumshoes in all of Los Angeles. With a reputation for both charm and tough tactics, he was hired to dig for dirt by some of the city's most expensive lawyers, who in turn worked for the very rich or very famous, or both, who were usually embroiled in marital struggles or professional lawsuits and vendettas.

He is now accused of illegally wire-tapping the targets of his investigations and using information that he gleaned to intimidate and blackmail them. He, and 13 other defendants charged in the investigation, allegedly also paid police buddies to hand over background information on people held in police files. The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin on 18 April.

According to the New York Post, Ms Kidman was interviewed by the FBI recently because of recordings of her speaking on the telephone found by police when they first raided the offices of Mr Pellicano at the end of 2002. The recordings were apparently made in 2001, shortly after Ms Kidman and Tom Cruise announced they were separating.

The two managed to orchestrate their split with the minimum of tabloid hysteria. But it appears that Mr Cruise used the Hollywood lawyer Dennis Wasser to finesse his separation. Mr Wasser is known to have turned often to the services of Mr Pellicano. Though not charged in the case, Mr Wasser has been told by the FBI that he is a "person of interest" in the burgeoning case.

Ms Kidman, according to the Post, had a private eye of her own, by the name of Richie Di Sabatino. He expressed shock that his client had been illicitly taped. "We swept her phones and put on an encryption device, so she couldn't be wiretapped," he told the newspaper. "We tried to keep one step ahead." He speculated that perhaps she had been using a phone belonging to Mr Cruise at the time.

That, however, would suggest that Mr Wasser was using Mr Pellicano to tape his own client - something that would not surprise Mr Di Sabatino, he said. There has been no comment from either Ms Kidman or Mr Cruise. There was no suggestion last night that Mr Cruise would have known that his ex-wife was being recorded.

Other clients of Mr Wasser have included the director Steven Spielberg. He also worked on a team representing the MGM tycoon Kirk Kirkorian when he was divorcing Bonder Kirkorian. The head of the divorce team was the lawyer Terry Christensen, who has been charged with having paid Mr Pellicano $100,000 (£57,000) to listen in to conversations of Bonder Kirkorian at the height of the divorce struggle.

The entire legal tanglebegan when death threats were made against two reporters working on stories about the actor Steven Seagal and alleged Mafia ties. After suspicions about the possible involvement of Mr Pellicano were raised, detectives ransacked his office, finding illegal firearms and explosives, as well as hours of digital recordings - allegedly of the wiretappings - on the computer hard drives.

Mr Pellicano is awaiting his trial in prison.