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Officer Allegedly Snooped in Database

Sergeant is suspected of illegal computer use to aid private investigator Anthony Pellicano.

June 04, 2003|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A Los Angeles police sergeant has been suspended for allegedly tapping into confidential police databases on behalf of Anthony Pellicano, a Hollywood private investigator who has worked for some of the biggest names in show business, law enforcement sources said.

FBI agents and Los Angeles Police Department investigators who served search warrants on Pellicano obtained records that led to Sgt. Mark Arneson, a 29-year veteran of the force. Financial records obtained by investigators had indicated that the sergeant had a source of income besides his LAPD salary, according to sources.

L.A. Police Chief William J. Bratton said Tuesday that Arneson is the subject of a joint LAPD-FBI probe and "has been placed on inactive duty," during which he is assigned to his home and is allowed to collect his pay unless he is charged administratively or criminally. Bratton said the department had taken Arneson's gun, badge and police identification.

Federal and state laws, as well as LAPD regulations, allow officers to use the database computers only for official business. Each time an LAPD user logs on, a warning states that unauthorized use can result in criminal prosecution. Unauthorized use can also bring job discipline ranging from a reprimand to dismissal.

Police sources said FBI and LAPD investigators had checked the 50-year-old Arneson's department computer logs. The logs demonstrated a pattern of connections with people the 59-year-old Pellicano was investigating, law enforcement sources said. Among the systems Arneson accessed was the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, which contains records of arrests and convictions, sources said.

The logs indicated that Arneson had accessed personal information about Anita Busch, a Los Angeles Times reporter who was investigating actor Steven Seagal and his ties to an alleged Mafia associate. The records Arneson had access to included Busch's driver's license, car registration and driving record, police sources said.

Pellicano has been under investigation for alleged involvement in an effort to threaten Busch.

That probe began with the arrest of Alexander Proctor, an ex-convict now charged in state court with having made a criminal threat against Busch. Proctor, 59, allegedly placed a dead fish, a rose and a note saying "Stop" on Busch's car last June 20.

At the time, Busch was researching a story on Seagal's business dispute with Julius Nasso, a former production partner. Federal officials have alleged that Nasso is an associate of the Gambino crime family.

In a conversation that was secretly recorded last year, Proctor allegedly told an FBI informant that he had been hired by Pellicano to carry out the threat on behalf of Seagal. Both Seagal and Pellicano have denied involvement.

That conversation provided the evidence that allowed federal authorities to obtain a warrant to search Pellicano's office. In that search, agents seized two unregistered hand grenades, plastic explosives and about $200,000 in cash, gold bullion and jewelry.

Pellicano is awaiting trial on federal charges of possession of explosives. He remains free on $400,000 bond pending a July 8 trial date.

During a March bail hearing, a federal prosecutor alleged that Pellicano had been assisted by a corrupt law enforcement officer. Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said the investigations into the threat against the reporter had grown into a large-scale probe involving other potential victims.

Saunders said FBI agents had obtained the names of a number of people, including some lawyers, who had hired Pellicano to conduct illicit wiretaps or secure the silence of potential witnesses. They have also identified computer software used and a telephone company contact, he said.

On Tuesday, Saunders declined to comment on Arneson's role in the inquiry.

Pellicano's defense attorney, Donald Re, said he would "not comment on any aspect of the investigation."

Arneson, whose suspension began May 5, is the latest in a string of officers accused of misusing LAPD databases for personal purposes. Some cases involved obtaining private information on friends or enemies. Most of the allegations were of misdemeanors.

In one computer case, LAPD Officer Kelly Chrisman is accused of improperly gaining access to law enforcement databases and selling the confidential information to the National Enquirer, according to testimony before a police disciplinary board.

Chrisman also allegedly accessed restricted databases to look up information on scores of Hollywood stars and other famous people.

In another computer case, a detective involved in Little League baseball and high school football allegedly ran a background check on a baseball coach he didn't like, as well as a football player on a rival team. Another reportedly checked up on his ex-wife.

Arneson, a decorated department veteran who spent a large part of his career as a homicide detective, was assigned to the Pacific Division and was a supervisor for the vice unit at the time of his suspension.

His attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Arneson also has connections to the movie industry. According to state records, he is part owner of a business operated by current and former officers who provide law enforcement expertise to ensure authenticity in movie and television productions. He appeared on-screen in the 1995 film "Strange Days."

He was also briefly mentioned in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial because he allegedly knew of statements made by then-LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman about knowing one of the murder victims, Nicole Brown Simpson. Pellicano worked for Fuhrman in the matter.

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