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Woman in Pellicano Case Acquitted

The jury finds the former SBC worker not guilty on four counts of lying to a grand jury and deadlocks on a fifth.

September 26, 2006|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

In a setback for government prosecutors, a federal jury in Los Angeles on Monday acquitted a former SBC employee on four felony counts of lying about her contacts with a central figure in the wiretapping case against onetime Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano.

The eight-man, four-woman jury also told U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer that it was deadlocked on a fifth perjury count against Joann Wiggan of Burbank, who was fired in March after 34 years with the telephone company, now known as AT&T.

Wiggan had been charged with lying to a federal grand jury about her contacts with co-worker Ray Turner, who is awaiting trial with Pellicano for allegedly providing the Hollywood private eye with confidential telephone records used in wiretapping.

Wiggan was not charged with participation in the wiretapping conspiracy and denied any involvement in illegal conduct involving telephone company records.

"In all honesty, I always believed that if you are not guilty you will be found not guilty," Wiggan said later. "When you are in a situation and putting your life in the hands of 12 strangers, you don't know what will happen. But I never believed they would come back with guilty. I always believed I would be exonerated."

Her attorney, David R. Reed, celebrated outside the courtroom as a speechless federal prosecutor and several FBI agents looked on. He compared Wiggan's acquittal after seven hours of deliberation "to David beating Goliath."

"We had a soccer mom who withstood a tremendous amount of pressure [from the government] over this ... and it took a jury to extricate her from this nightmare," Reed said.

The U.S. attorney's office released a statement from Daniel Saunders, the government's lead prosecutor.

"We are disappointed by the verdict, but of course we accept the jury's decision," he said, adding that the government would consider the evidence related to the unresolved count and decide in the next few days whether to proceed with the case.

In the statement, Saunders sought to distance Monday's courtroom loss from the larger Pellicano case.

"The charges against Ms. Wiggan are completely different from those contained in the separate indictment against Anthony Pellicano," Saunders said. "Today's verdict does not impact the prosecution or the ongoing investigation of Mr. Pellicano and his associates."

But with the same judge, prosecutors and agents involved in the pending Pellicano racketeering case, several legal observers saw the verdict Monday as a clear setback for the government.

By losing even a tangential prosecution, they said, the government could be hurt in its larger case because Monday's verdicts will embolden attorneys who represent Pellicano and six other defendants and could even affect the government's credibility with the court.

"The fact that you can't win in a peripheral case does not mean you won't win the main case," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. "But it is not an auspicious beginning. And it tells the prosecution they better not be overconfident, that they are in for a fight."

Unlike the two other former phone company employees who admitted helping Turner, Wiggan always insisted that she had not helped Turner and, in fact, had not spoken to him in years. That claim became the foundation of the government's accusations of perjury.

Throughout the four-day trial, Saunders and fellow prosecutor Kevin Lally built their case on a 23-page summary of phone calls that they said proved that Wiggan deliberately and repeatedly lied about her contacts with Turner.

The prosecutors charged that on three separate occasions last October and twice in February, Wiggan committed perjury by telling the grand jury that she had not spoken to Turner since December 2000 and had not retrieved any voice mail messages from him for several years.

Between late 1998 and late 2002, phone records showed, more than 1,000 calls were made from Wiggan's home, office and cell phones to her voice mail. The logs also showed 117 calls from Turner's home number to her office and other calls between phone numbers assigned to Turner and Wiggan.

But Wiggan and her attorney attributed her misstatements to the grand jury to forgetfulness or innocent oversights. Wiggan took the witness stand in her own defense, and Reed called her ex-husband and their oldest son as witnesses to testify that they had called Wiggan's office voice mail on numerous occasions.

In the end, it may have been the high threshold required for a perjury conviction -- as much as the disputed evidence -- that led to the jury acquitting Wiggan on four counts and being deadlocked 6 to 6 on the remaining count that she had never accessed one voice mail account during the entire time it was assigned to her.

In brief interviews after they were excused, two jurors said that although they and their fellow jurors believed that Wiggan may have misspoken during her grand jury testimony, the government failed to prove that the misstatements were "willful and deliberate," as the law demands.

"We did not see evidence of that," said jury foreman Stephen Cathey, a 31-year-old real estate agent from Lancaster. "We didn't believe [her grand jury testimony] was willfully dishonest."

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greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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