Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anthony Pellicano: Wiretapper to the Stars

"Stop"

Michael Ovitz
Michael Ovitz

It all started with a dead fish with a red rose in its mouth. In 2002, freelance reporter Anita Busch had found both items on the smashed windshield of her car along with a note that simply said, "Stop." At the time, Busch was writing separate articles about actor Steven Segal's involvement with the Mafia and former super-agent and short-lived Disney president Michael Ovitz's difficulties re-establishing himself as an agent. Busch reported the incident to the police, who initiated an investigation.

Later that year an FBI informant secretly recorded a career criminal named Alexander Proctor, 62, admitting that he put the fish, the rose, and the note on Busch's car, and that he had done it for Los Angeles private eye Anthony Pellicano. In that same conversation, the German-born Proctor, who has several drug convictions on his record, bragged that he "could sell a million of 'em," referring to Ecstasy pills.

As a result of Proctor's incriminating statements on tape, FBI agents obtained a warrant to search Anthony Pellicano's office on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In November 2003, agents found two hand grenades, a brick of C-4 plastic explosive, and $200,000. Pellicano pleaded guilty to weapons charges and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Anthony Pellicano
Anthony Pellicano

But the truly explosive material was uncovered in a subsequent FBI raid on his office. Following a lead that Anita Busch's telephones had been tapped, agents returned to Pellicano's office on January 14, 2003, looking for evidence of wiretapping. The agents penetrated Pellicano's "War Room" and seized "11 computers, including five Macs, 23 external hard drives, a Palm V digital assistant, 52 diskettes, 34 Zip drives, 92 CD-Roms, and two DVDs," according to Vanity Fair. This equipment contained "3.868 terabytes of data," the New York Times reported, "the equivalent of two billion pages of double-spaced text." The content of these electronic files was Pellicano's work product as Hollywood's wiretapper to the stars, illegally intercepted telephone conversations of the rich and famous. Some of these wiretaps were ordered by powerful attorneys and executives seeking an unfair advantage in legal disputes. Some of the intercepted conversations concerned personal matters, like divorce and child custody disputes. Much of it was business as usual, Hollywood-style. All of it was obtained illegally.

As news of the seizure of Pellicano's files spread like brush fire, people in the "biz" became very nervous. Many of Hollywood's top movers and shakers had used Pellicano's services or had retained attorneys who did. If the FBI listened to those tapes, indictments would certainly follow.  Hollywood held its breath, waiting to see where the ax would fall.

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