FBI computer expert testifies at Pellicano trial
EmptyFormer Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano on Friday called his one and only witness -- an FBI computer expert -- in his defense against wiretapping and racketeering charges.
On the witness stand, Donald Schmidt testified that he was told to look for evidence of audio recordings on Mac computers confiscated by federal agents in a search of Pellicano's Sunset Boulevard office in November 2002.
"I recall hearing audio files," Schmidt said.
"Did you or anybody determine these files were wiretaps?" Pellicano asked.
"It's not my job," Schmidt responded. "I was told to find audio files."
Watching Pellicano defend himself on Friday were his wife, Kat Pellicano, and his two teenage daughters. Pellicano, at different times, smiled, waved and winked at them, and at one point, gestured to his wife that he liked his daughter's hair.
After questioning Schmidt, Pellicano told Judge Dale Fischer he had no other witnesses to call. He could still take the stand and has discussed in open court with Fischer (outside the jury's presence) how that would happen, since he is representing himself.
Fischer has suggested Pellicano draft questions and recruit one of the other defense attorneys to ask them while he's in the witness box.
Pellicano is accused of being the ringleader of a criminal enterprise that included tapping phone lines and employing others to dig up often confidential information on adversaries of clients who hired the private eye.
Among the co-defendants is retired Los Angeles police Sgt. Mark Arneson, who took the stand in his own defense following Pellicano's witness.
Under questioning by Arneson's attorney Chad Hummel, the former sergeant admitted he "crossed the line" when he ran records searches for Pellicano on police computers over a seven year span.
Arneson said he met Pellicano in 1986, when he was working on a case that involved audio recordings that the court allowed Pellicano to analyze for the defense.
The former cop said he was not polite with Pellicano the first time they spoke by phone, because the gumshoe was working for the defense in the case. But when he went to Pellicano's Hollywood office he changed his mind. There, Arneson said Pellicano showed him his forensic lab and the work he did for the government, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Pellicano was an expert at the time in audio and video and his ability to authenticate tapes, enhance them and read magnetic signatures, among other things.
Overtime, they developed both a personal friendship and a working relationship whereby Pellicano was used as a "resource" and "source," Arneson said.
In running record searches for Pellicano, Arneson said the private eye already had most of the information, like date of birth and driver's license number, and was just trying to verify it as well as check criminal records.
"He had an incredible bank of information," he said.
Arneson justified his searches by thinking of them as "short cuts" for Pellicano because the information found was public records.
Eventually, Arneson, through the permission of the LAPD, formed a business, Mark Enterprises, in which Pellicano paid him $2,500 a month to assist the private eye and his clients with security matters, including bodyguarding, residential security checks and surveillance. Arneson's business also involved recruiting other off-duty officers to work location shoots for TV and film.
Among those he was a bodyguard for: Farrah Fawcett, Whoopi Goldberg, Rick Springfield, Mary J. Blige and Vidal Sassoon.
Arneson said he also agreed to be a 24-hour consultant to Pellicano, helping him out if he had problems.
But on cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders peppered Arneson with questions about the day he retired, which was the very same day he was scheduled to talk with LAPD Internal Affairs investigators about his dealings with Pellicano.
Over and over, Saunders asked Arneson whether he announced his retirement that day in order to avoid talking with police investigators.
And Arneson repeatedly responded, "I didn't think it was necessary."
His reasoning? Arneson had already been questioned by Saunders and the government's lead investigator in the case, Stanley Ornellas. From the stand, Arneson accused Saunders and Ornellas of threatening him in that interview, with the prosecutor allegedly telling him to "roll over on Pellicano" or else he would be charged with racketeering.
Arneson resumes his testimony on Tuesday. His attorney, Hummel, has said he plans to call Ornellas and entertainment attorney Bert Fields as witnesses.