- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 21, 2006

LOS ANGELES

In the world of Hollywood fantasy, no occupation has been quite as mythologized as the private detective — the gumshoe in the shadows bending the law while spying on cheating spouses or lying business partners.

In their endless push for fame and fortune, some Hollywood power brokers bought into the character and found a real-life private eye with a dubious reputation.

Federal prosecutors say Anthony Pellicano used wiretaps, threats and blackmail to help lawyers and their clients win high-stakes legal disputes.

Other private eyes complain the case has confused fact and fiction about their work while showing how far people in Hollywood expect them to go.

“This has perpetuated the myth that investigators can and will do anything” if they’re paid enough, said Scott Ross, a private investigator who has worked for legal teams defending Michael Jackson and Robert Blake, among others.

“It’s untrue,” Mr. Ross said. “I’m not going to sit in a two-by-four cage because your wife wants to have sex with the gardener.”

Harold Copus, a private eye in Atlanta who investigated the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, considers Mr. Pellicano a rogue and said publicity from the case has brought disturbing demands from prospective clients.

“Many times people approach us now for wiretaps,” he said. “But that’s showbiz. That’s not the real world.”

Mr. Pellicano, 62, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on charges of wiretapping such stars as Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine and paying police officers tens of thousands of dollars to run names, including comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, through a government database.

Thirteen other defendants have been charged. Among the most notable, “Die Hard” director John McTiernan pleaded guilty to making false statements to an FBI agent, and former Hollywood Records president Robert Pfeifer admitted hiring Mr. Pellicano to wiretap the phone of his former girlfriend.

Mr. Pellicano, indicted in February after completing a 30-month federal prison sentence for possessing explosives, was known in Hollywood as a source of last resort for clients, lawyers and private investigators said.

A tough-talking native of Chicago, he charged high fees, but that didn’t prevent top entertainment lawyers and stars from keeping him busy.

Tinseltown was the perfect setting for him, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Loyola Law School.

“In Hollywood people don’t have the same boundaries. They’re used to bending the rules,” she said.

They also like to get their way.

“Hollywood people are much more demanding of your time,” Mr. Ross said. “They want to be more hands-on.”

While pitching his services, Mr. Pellicano portrayed himself as a colorful character.

Attorney Harland Braun, who represented Mr. Blake during the early days of his murder case, remembered getting calls years ago from the private eye looking for work.

“I smelled a rat and I stayed away from him,” Mr. Braun said.

Mr. Pellicano sometimes put Mr. Braun on hold during those calls.

“I would have to wait through 45 seconds of Italian opera before he came back on the line,” he said.

Ms. Levenson said Mr. Pellicano wanted to be a big shot but was actually “trapped in his own ‘Sopranos’ movie.”

“This is a city of eccentric people and he was one of them,” she said.

Adam Dawson spent 20 years as an investigative reporter before becoming a private eye and working on cases involving former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss and more recently an accused Chinese-American double agent.

Forget about the fantasy, he said. The reality of being a detective is no match for the movies. Most of the work is poring over documents and computer files.

“We’re not constantly getting in fights and high-speed chases,” he said. “We leave that to the TV detectives.”

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