By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Published: 15 April 2006
Two of Hollywood's most prominent power players – one the former president of Disney, the other the current chairman of Paramount Pictures – took centre stage in America yesterday in the growing scandal surroundingthe disgraced private eye Anthony Pellicano and his unorthodox investigative methods.
Neither Michael Ovitz, the one-time super agent and Disney supremo, nor Brad Grey, the Paramount chief who once shared an office building with Mr Pellicano, has been accused of wrongdoing. Both men, through their lawyers, have insisted they are only witnesses in the case.
But a stash of FBI documents, obtained by The New York Times, suggests that the two power-brokers had far more extensive contacts with Mr Pellicano than they have previously acknowledged in public. Since Mr Pellicano and a group of associates now face 110 charges of arranging illegal wiretaps on the targets of their investigations and breaking into confidential law enforcement databases, the new revelations are, at the very least, a severe embarrassment.
In his interviews with the FBI, Mr Ovitz acknowledged hiring Mr Pellicano in 2002 to dig up information on 15-20 people who were saying negative things about him. Those included a New York Times reporter, Bernard Weinraub, who had written stories about the collapse of his talent management company, and a freelance assistant, Anita Busch, whose unrelated complaints of being on the receiving end of crude threats from Mr Pellicano became the thread that unravelled the private eye's career and reputation.
Mr Ovitz's lawyers, however, continued to deny yesterday that he had hired Mr Pellicano for any purpose beyond investigating the plaintiffs in three lawsuits filed against him, and insisted that any information dug up on the reporters was done without his consent.
The FBI file on Mr Grey, meanwhile, appeared to be at considerable variance with his previous public claim to be no more than “casually acquainted” with Mr Pellicano. In two interviews with investigators, one in mid-2003 and a second, more forthcoming one in early 2004, Mr Grey acknowledged talking several times on the phone with Mr Pellicano about a lawsuit in which he was involved and the development of a television series about a private detective.
The FBI also has a former Pellicano employee alleging that Mr Grey visited Mr Pellicano's offices at least five times – something Mr Grey denies. The file also includes testimony from the comedian Garry Shandling, a former client of Mr Grey's who had a public falling out with him, that Mr Grey recommended Mr Pellicano to him in 1996 when he was experiencing legal grief from an old girlfriend.
The person most at risk from this testimony is not Mr Grey or Mr Ovitz but rather the veteran entertainment lawyer both of them used, and who in turn regularly hired Mr Pellicano as an investigator. The lawyer, Bert Fields, has acknowledged being a “person of interest” in the Pellicano investigation but has not faced charges to date.
The scandal has already caused considerable ructions at Mr Fields' law firm, where two partners recently walked out to form their own independent practice. Federal investigators spent months considering a criminal indictment against the entire firm of Greenberg Glusker, only to decide this week not to go through with it. They said they were continuing to focus their attentions on individual lawyers, however.
Barely a week goes by without another high-profile figure getting caught up in the Pellicano net. John McTiernan, the director of Die Hard and other action movies, has been charged with lying to investigators about his involvement with Pellicano. Other indictees include the family attorney working on media mogul Kirk Kerkorian's divorce from former tennis professional Lisa Bonder.
(ShellNews.net comment on this story: Mr Richard Wiseman, the General Counsel for Shell International Petroleum Company Limited has admitted that Shell has used private investigators against plaintiffs in the course of litigation brought against Shell. Royal Dutch Shell has also admitted using undercover agents against perceived enemies such as Greenpeace. Shell covert agents have engaged in sabotage, deception, infiltration, treachery and other seedy spying activities on Shell’s behalf using fake identities and fake documents/credentials.)