It was the stuff of movies: a dead fish and a rose on a car windshield, a safe full of money and explosives, a room full of wiretapping equipment. The 2002 arrest of Anthony Pellicano, former private eye to the stars, kicked off one of Hollywood's most dramatic scandals. On Dec. 15, a federal judge sentenced Pellicano to fifteen years in prison after a May trial in which he was found guilty on 78 counts, including wiretapping and racketeering. He's been in jail since 2003 on federal explosives charges. Only in Hollywood, kids.
Born in 1944, Pellicano became a private investigator when he was 25.
Moved to California in the early 1980's to help defend John Z. DeLorean (the man behind the Back to the Future car) on cocaine charges.
Since then, he has had many a famous client. Yoko Ono hired him to help find her daughter. Roseanne Barr hired him to help find her own daughter, whom she had once put up for adoption. He helped dig up dirt on one of the families accusing Michael Jackson of molestation. He has done work for Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, James Woods, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, former super-agent Mike Ovitz and dozens of others. His nickname is the "sin eater."
He loved Mafia iconography and liked being known as a tough guy. When he watched the Sopranos, it was "like he was going to church," said one of his five wives, with whom he had an autistic son named after a character in The Godfather. He used the score from that film as the hold music on his office phone. Pellicano often brandished a baseball bat.
In 2002, Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch discovered a dead fish with a red rose in its mouth and a sign reading "Stop" on the cracked windshield of her Audi. At the time, she was writing about Steven Seagal and Mike Ovitz, both clients of Pellicano. The trail eventually led to his office, where FBI agents discovered plastic explosives, grenades, pistols and about $200,000 in cash in Pellicano's safe. He pleaded guilty to weapons charges and went to prison.
Law enforcement officials also discovered hundreds of hours of illegally wiretapped conversations that Pellicano taped out of a small, secure room he called "the Bat-cave." As he was about to leave prison on the weapons charges, he was indicted on the wiretapping charges and denied bail.
Ironically, Pellicano was often hired by the government to analyze and improve the quality of taped recordings. In one notable case, he enhanced a decades-old recording on which a Ku Klux Klansman incriminated himself in the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama church that killed four girls.
"There were times when he would make my children kiss his hand like he was the Godfather. He started to think he was Don Corleone." Katherine Pellicano, on her husband's Mafia obsession (Vanity Fair, June 2006)
"He came up with stuff that other people didn't. He did that over and over again. He was just better." Bert Fields, top Hollywood lawyer, several of whose clients had employed Pellicano, on the investigator's mysterious but effective methods (The New Yorker, July 24, 2006)
"He made his clients believe he was a bulldog ... Basically, in this town, if you're not in the limelight, you're nobody. Pellicano was in the limelight; in fact, I think he liked it a little too much." Richard DiSabatino, Beverly Hills P.I., on his fellow shamus (The Guardian, March 2, 2008)
"I always start out by being a gentleman. I only use intimidation and fear when I absolutely have to." on his tough-guy reputation (The New Yorker, July 24, 2006)
"You know the kind of guy I am. If I got a problem with you, I'm in your face." on why he possibly couldn't have ordered someone to put a dead fish and rose on Anita Busch's car (The Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2006)
"Perhaps his business card should read 'I deliver,' because he did it over and over again." speaking about himself in the third person, while serving as his own attorney during his spring 2008 racketeering trial (USA Today, May 1, 2008)