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Pellicano sentenced to prison

The private eye gets 15 years for wiretaps on behalf of celebrity clients. He can get out in 2018 at the earliest.

December 16, 2008|Victoria Kim | Kim is a Times staff writer.

Former Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for running an illegal wiretapping operation that gathered information for a list of well-to-do clients, including celebrities, attorneys and business executives.

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer condemned the once-famed investigator for "reprehensible" conduct that went on for many years as she handed down a sentence that significantly exceeded the five-year, 10-month term recommended by probation officials. "He did this eagerly, sometimes maliciously, and with pride," she said.

As the judge spoke, Pellicano -- dressed in green prison garb and shackled at the ankles and waist -- remained mostly expressionless, leaning back in his chair with his chin propped on his hand.

The 64-year-old sleuth, whose clients and victims ranked among Hollywood's biggest stars and most powerful executives, was convicted in two criminal trials earlier this year of 78 counts, including wiretapping, computer fraud and wire fraud.

When given a chance to address the court before sentencing, Pellicano said he had taken "full and complete responsibility" for his actions.

Assistant U.S. Atty Kevin Lally called the statement "hogwash."

In court papers filed in October, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Pellicano to 15 years and 8 months in prison, saying he was charged with, and convicted of, only a fraction of the crimes he actually committed.

By tapping phones and bribing public officials, Pellicano violated fundamental privacy rights of hundreds of people and chipped away at the integrity of public institutions, prosecutors contended.

"He enjoyed every minute of it," Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders said at Monday's hearing.

According to prosecutors, Pellicano charged steep rates for information he got by listening to people's most intimate and personal conversations, often to give his rich and famous clients an edge in legal fights.

He bribed police officers to run names in law enforcement databases and phone company officials to get wiretaps running, prosecutors said.

With clients like Chris Rock and entertainment attorney Bertram Fields and victims like Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine, Pellicano's trial was a glimpse into the workings of Hollywood's innermost circles.

Although Pellicano represented himself at the federal trials -- leading to moments of farce and confusion -- he asked that attorneys get involved on his behalf for the sentencing.

Attorney Michael Artan had sought a more lenient sentence from Fischer, arguing that Pellicano's "hardscrabble" youth, work as a forensic audio expert for the government and financial struggle to provide for his autistic son in the years before his arrest were mitigating factors she should consider.

Fischer said she agreed that Pellicano's work for the government should be taken into account, saying she got many letters from law enforcement agencies about Monday's sentencing.

But she said it was far outweighed by the graveness of his crimes.

Similar pleas for leniency for Pellicano and his co-defendants have also been dismissed by Fischer.

Last week, the judge said Pellicano and two co-defendants should forfeit more than $2 million, an amount requested by prosecutors.

And last month, Fischer sentenced Pellicano's co-conspirator, attorney Terry Christensen, to three years in prison, rejecting a recommendation from probation officials that he be placed under house arrest.

Fischer rebuked Christensen, who was accused of conspiring with Pellicano to wiretap his opponents in trial, for "marring" the legal profession.

Pellicano's attorneys said they would be filing for appeal, citing what they called a "cornucopia" of issues to be raised about the trial.

The sentence was overly harsh compared with other wiretapping cases, they argued, accusing prosecutors of "knee-jerk hyperbole."

Fischer, however, said she was unaware of any past case that was similar to Pellicano's extensive wiretapping and racketeering business.

The earliest Pellicano can be released is 2018. Pellicano has been credited for the time he has served since 2006, when he was indicted after he finished serving 30 months for possession of explosives.

Four other defendants are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Pellicano's troubles began in 2002, when a reporter who wrote negative articles about former Hollywood super agent Michael Ovitz went to authorities after she found a dead fish, a rose and a note saying "Stop" inside the smashed windshield of her car.

The reporter, Anita Busch, told the judge Monday that Pellicano's intimidation and wiretapping were like "death by a thousand cuts."

The investigation led authorities to Pellicano's office, and it quickly snowballed into a wide-reaching probe that appeared would implicate some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities.

Pellicano's co-defendants included Sgt. Mark Arneson of the Los Angeles Police Department, computer technician Kevin Kachikian, and phone company employee Ray Turner, who were all convicted in jury verdicts in May.

They helped Pellicano earn millions by getting information on ex-spouses, business associates and opponents in lawsuits, prosecutors said.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

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