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THE NEW YORK TIMES: F.B.I. Files Link Big Film Names to a Detective

This article relates to a forthcoming story about Shell's use of private investigators and undercover agents.


THE NEW YORK TIMES: F.B.I. Files Link Big Film Names to a Detective



Published: April 14, 2006


LOS ANGELES, April 13 — The chairman of Paramount Pictures and a onetime Hollywood superagent had far more direct dealings than they have acknowledged publicly with the celebrity detective at the center of a rapidly expanding wiretapping scandal, according to government evidence.


Graphic: Connected Brad Grey, Paramount's chairman, told the F.B.I. that he spoke with Anthony Pellicano about two lawsuits in which Mr. Pellicano, a private detective, was working on Mr. Grey's behalf, and that he learned information about his legal opponents directly from Mr. Pellicano. A former employee of Mr. Pellicano, who was charged in February with wiretapping and conspiracy, separately told the F.B.I. that Mr. Grey had met with the detective at least five times.


Publicly, Mr. Grey has said that he was only “casually acquainted” with Mr. Pellicano, and that his lawyers were responsible for hiring and overseeing the detective.


Michael S. Ovitz, a former talent agent and Hollywood powerhouse who served as the head of the Creative Artists Agency and was once president of the Walt Disney Company, acknowledged to the F.B.I. that he paid Mr. Pellicano in April or May of 2002 to obtain information on 15 to 20 people who were saying negative things about him. They included former business associates and Bernard Weinraub, then a reporter for The New York Times who was reporting on the demise of a company Mr. Ovitz started after he left Disney, and Anita Busch, a freelance reporter who wrote with Mr. Weinraub.


A lawyer for Mr. Ovitz, Bart H. Williams, denied that Mr. Ovitz had given Mr. Pellicano a list of anyone to investigate except the people who were suing him. If Mr. Pellicano “went out and used illegal means to get information that he thought would impress Mr. Ovitz, that was not done with Mr. Ovitz's knowledge and consent,” he said.


The federal investigation, set off by a threat against Ms. Busch in June 2002, has since sent shock waves through entertainment and legal circles here. Who, exactly, initiated the threat has not been established. But the government's questioning of the two Hollywood executives — who maintain they are witnesses in the case, not targets — shows authorities circling the heavyweight entertainment lawyer Bert Fields, who worked for both.


Mr. Ovitz has not publicly acknowledged directing Mr. Pellicano to investigate Mr. Weinraub or Ms. Busch. In February, Mr. Ovitz's lawyer, James Ellis, said that Mr. Pellicano's use of law enforcement databases for checks on the two reporters, which prosecutors say was illegal, “wasn't done at our direction.”


Mr. Fields, the entertainment lawyer, has acknowledged being a subject of the investigation, but, like Mr. Grey and Mr. Ovitz, has said he had no knowledge of illegal activity.


Summaries of F.B.I. interviews seen by The New York Times — documents that are routinely compiled as the raw material of investigations — give no indication that Mr. Grey or Mr. Ovitz knew Mr. Pellicano had used illegal means. But they paint a picture of their hands-on dealings with the disgraced detective.


Thus far, 14 people have been charged in the case, including the entertainment lawyer Terry N. Christensen, who has pleaded not guilty, and John McTiernan, a film director who has not yet entered a plea to a charge that he lied to the F. B. I. Mr. Grey, who headed the entertainment company Brillstein-Grey until being named chairman of Paramount in January 2005, described his interaction with Mr. Pellicano in two interviews, the second of which, on Jan. 14, 2004, told a story fuller and somewhat different from the first, which occurred on July 17, 2003. Carl H. Moor, a lawyer for Mr. Grey, said Mr. Grey had been able to say more in the second interview because at that point his “lawyers allowed him, at the request of the government, to talk about privileged communications, therefore he was at liberty to provide a more fulsome description of these matters.”


Mr. Grey was questioned by the authorities about two lawsuits in which Mr. Pellicano was hired: one by his former client Garry Shandling, the comedian, who accused Mr. Grey of enriching himself at Mr. Shandling's expense, and another by a writer, Bo Zenga, who said Mr. Grey cut him out of the profits from “Scary Movie.”


In his first interview, Mr. Grey told F.B.I. agents and prosecutors that he met Mr. Pellicano around 1996 in the Sunset Boulevard office building where Mr. Pellicano's detective agency and Brillstein-Grey then were neighboring tenants. Mr. Grey said he knew Mr. Pellicano enough to say hello in the hallway. Mr. Grey said he could not recall if he knew of Mr. Pellicano's association with Mr. Fields before the Shandling lawsuit, which was filed in 1998.


But Mr. Shandling, in his own F.B.I. interview, said Mr. Grey had urged him to hire Mr. Fields “and a private investigator who worked with Fields by the name of Anthony Pellicano” in 1996, when Mr. Shandling was sued by a former girlfriend and employee, Linda Doucett. Mr. Grey proposed that “Fields and Pellicano would '[dig] up dirt' ” on Ms. Doucett, Mr. Shandling told agents. In his first interview, Mr. Grey, who told investigators he was unaware of Mr. Pellicano's use of any intimidation tactics, repeatedly called Mr. Pellicano a “colorful character,” and once called him “warm.” Regarding the Shandling lawsuit, which was filed in 1998 and settled in 1999, Mr. Grey said he could not remember why Mr. Pellicano had been hired or any specific instructions Mr. Fields had given him.


Graphic: Connected But in the second F.B.I. interview, six months later, Mr. Grey said Mr. Fields had hired Mr. Pellicano to investigate an allegation that Mr. Shandling had a drug dependency, and to determine how a draft of a libel lawsuit against Mr. Shandling had been leaked to a magazine.


In November 2003, between Mr. Grey's two interviews, Mr. Fields publicly disclosed that he was a subject of the federal investigation of Mr. Pellicano. In Mr. Grey's subsequent F.B.I. session, he expounded upon Mr. Fields's ties to Mr. Pellicano, saying “Fields and Pellicano shared a 'key relationship,' that Pellicano was frequently used by Mr. Fields, and that Mr. Pellicano was 'part of Fields's team.' “


Mr. Grey told the F.B.I. in July 2003 that he could not recall ever speaking by phone with Mr. Pellicano during the Shandling dispute. But in January 2004, Mr. Grey said Mr. Pellicano called him “from time to time to talk about the case and the Hollywood scene.” Mr. Grey said Mr. Pellicano mainly told him to “stay strong and not settle” with Mr. Shandling, and that Mr. Grey conveyed Mr. Pellicano's advice to Mr. Fields, his lawyer, who told him to ignore it.


Mr. Grey — who told agents he had worked with Mr. Pellicano on a proposal for a television series about a private detective — said in the July 2003 interview that he did not recall any face-to-face meetings with Mr. Pellicano about the Shandling case. The F.B.I. summaries do not contain any mention by Mr. Grey of any substantive meetings with Mr. Pellicano over the years.


But a month after the July 2003 interview, when a former employee of Mr. Pellicano, Lilly LeMasters, who said she worked for him from 1996 until April 2001, was asked by the F.B.I. if she recognized Mr. Grey's name, she remembered him as a Pellicano client who was “very arrogant.” Ms. LeMasters said she did not know the details of the case but had seen Mr. Grey in Mr. Pellicano's office twice; she also said Mr. Pellicano visited Mr. Grey's office three or four times.


Mr. Moor, the lawyer for Mr. Grey, said: “As Mr. Grey told the government, a prominent agent and director worked with Anthony Pellicano to pitch a television program to Brillstein-Grey, and it was only in connection with that effort that Mr. Pellicano and others on that project met at the offices of Brillstein-Grey. Mr. Grey has never been to Mr. Pellicano's office.”


In the January 2004 interview, Mr. Grey also told the authorities he did not recall Mr. Pellicano's ever saying anything indicating that he had inside knowledge from the Shandling camp. But Mr. Grey said he did once hear Mr. Pellicano say Mr. Shandling was driving his lawyers crazy. He said one did not have to be particularly close to Mr. Shandling “and his people to make that observation.”


While Mr. Grey minimized his interactions with Mr. Pellicano, Mr. Ovitz told the F.B.I. that “he had expected to be contacted given his prior relationship with Pellicano,” the interviewing agents wrote.


Mr. Ovitz said he had heard of Mr. Pellicano for years “around the campus,” as he called Hollywood, and that some of his clients had used the detective. Mr. Ovitz said Mr. Pellicano called him a few times a week, presumably to drum up business, but that he did not return the calls.


Mr. Ovitz said he first met Mr. Pellicano in 2001, when Artists Management Group — the vehicle Mr. Ovitz had used to attempt a comeback as a talent manager — was disintegrating. He said he hired Mr. Pellicano to help with lawsuits by a former employee and by a sports agent demanding a commission, and paid Mr. Pellicano $25,000 for each case through the firm handling the lawsuits, Gorry Meyer & Rudd.


Mr. Ovitz said that at Mr. Pellicano's direction, Mr. Ovitz used the code name Gaspar when calling Mr. Pellicano's office. Mr. Ovitz told the F.B.I. he was ignorant of Mr. Pellicano's methods and unaware of any wiretapping, but he said he was impressed by Mr. Pellicano's “initiative and resourcefulness.”


Mr. Ovitz said he believed that Mr. Pellicano was also investigating him, to drum up business; he complained of telephone problems and provided the F.B.I. agents his phone numbers.


In April or May 2002, as he was negotiating and completing the sale of Artists Management, Mr. Ovitz learned that a “group of people” were “coming after” him to attack his reputation, he told the F.B.I., and he hired Mr. Pellicano to investigate. He said he asked Mr. Pellicano for embarrassing information about 15 to 20 people who were affecting his plans to sell the business, including Ron Meyer, his former partner at C.A.A. and the current head of Universal Studios; Mr. Weinraub; and the entertainment titan David Geffen, a partner in DreamWorks. Asked if Ms. Busch was on the list, Mr. Ovitz said she was. In May 2002, Mr. Ovitz said, Mr. Pellicano obtained for him an unedited, advance copy of a Vanity Fair article to be published that August in which Mr. Ovitz attributed his problems to a “gay mafia” in Hollywood. The agents noted that Mr. Ovitz “claimed to have never read” the article.


Mr. Ovitz told the F.B.I. that he met three or four times with Mr. Pellicano and spoke “multiple” times with him in June and July of 2002. Mr. Ovitz said he received an oral report about Mr. Weinraub, Ms. Busch and Mr. Geffen, but all Mr. Ovitz said about the report was that Mr. Pellicano called Ms. Busch “boring and not worth [Ovitz's] time.” When Mr. Pellicano claimed he had worked for Mr. Geffen in the past, doing “damage control” relating to “Geffen's gay lifestyle,” Mr. Ovitz told the F.B.I., he wondered what Mr. Pellicano might say about him.


Mr. Ovitz said he paid Mr. Pellicano $75,000 in cash, the last payment in late June or early July 2002.



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