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This story first appeared in the June 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
On June 20, 2002 — exactly 10 years ago today — journalist Anita Busch discovered a dead fish with a red rose in its mouth and a note on the cracked windshield of her Audi: “Stop.” The threat, and Busch’s complaints to Los Angeles police, began the Hollywood legal odyssey known as the Pellicano scandal, which ensnared people ranging from power brokers Michael Ovitz and Brad Grey to actor Steven Seagal, culminating in the 2008 sentencing of private investigator Anthony Pellicano to 15 years in prison for possession of firearms, wiretapping and racketeering.
Now Pellicano, 68, wants out of a federal penitentiary in Texas, arguing in court papers filed June 11 that he should be granted bail while he appeals his case because two recent Supreme Court decisions “completely eviscerate the government’s convictions,” he argues. The move has prompted Busch, whose once-vibrant career — including a stint as editor of The Hollywood Reporter — was derailed by her wiretapping ordeal, to come forward to challenge Pellicano’s request and reveal new frustrations with the L.A. District Attorney’s office.
In an interview with THR, Busch says that if Pellicano is allowed to plead his case before U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer during a requested hearing July 9, she will appear in court to oppose his effort. “I’ll attend and speak if I can,” Busch says. “He should not be let out of prison.”
In the court papers, Pellicano attorney Steven Gruel argues that the former sleuth, who suffers from an eye ailment, does not pose a threat and should be granted bail like others who were convicted and are appealing, including attorney Terry Christensen and former LAPD Sgt. Mark Arneson. But Busch counters that she and other Pellicano victims would fear for their lives if he were released. “If you’re dealing with a sociopath, which is what Mr. Pellicano is, you cannot predict his behavior,” she says. “You cannot predict the behavior of someone who is going to hire someone to go blow up a reporter’s car.” That sentiment is shared by other wiretap victims, including Pamela Miller, a former nanny who was spied on by Pellicano and tells THR she also will attend a court hearing to voice opposition. (Pellicano did not respond to a request for an interview made through his attorney.)
For Busch, 51, the Pellicano case did not end with his conviction. Despite various health issues, she continues to press a civil lawsuit against Ovitz, who she believes hired Pellicano to torment her when she pursued articles about him for The New York Times. (Ovitz was never charged and testified at trial that he had no knowledge of Pellicano’s tactics.) She is a plaintiff in a complex class-action lawsuit against Arneson and the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills related to wiretapping and invasion of privacy as well as a separate class action against a telephone company over the wiretapping.
Busch also is raising new questions about the handling of the Pellicano case by the L.A. District Attorney’s office, which she says has ties to the P.I. and the law firms that hired him. Busch, for instance, says she was told that her file in the matter, which contains records and statements she gave police, went missing for about a year around the time Pellicano was preparing his appeal. “They had no reasonable explanation for why the file wasn’t found,” she says. “I believe it’s part of a pattern by D.A. Steve Cooley of protecting his allies and making cases and files disappear.”
A district attorney spokesperson tells THR the documents were never missplaced, saying, “They were electronically scanned for preservation, and they are now sitting in the prosecutor’s office.” But Busch counters that deputy D.A. Ronald Goudy once told her the file was lost and is now refusing to allow her to see the contents of the file.
Despite the ordeal, Busch says she will remain in L.A. while her lawsuits play out, even thoughshe is still fearful a decade after she was first threatened. “My life has completely changed,” she says, “I don’t think anyone has seen the level of corruption I’ve seen.”
Here’s an edited Q&A with Busch about the Pellicano bail request, as well as her thoughts on the case, her new battle with the D.A.’s office and the Hollywood figures who played such a prominent role in the wiretapping scandal:
What was your reaction when you heard that Pellicano is asking to be let out of jail pending his appeal?
Busch: He should not be let out.
Busch: Well, he’s a threat to me and to others, including other journalists. This was domestic terrorism. This kind of stuff is very commonplace in Third World countries, but it’s not commonplace in the United States to target journalists and newspapers to prevent them from publishing stories.
Do you plan to attend the July 9 hearing if the judge allows it?
Busch: I’ll attend and speak if I can and say that he should not be let out of prison.
Pellicano argues, among other things, that others who have been convicted are free pending their appeal so he should be out too. Why is he different?
Busch: Pellicano had a long history of using any means necessary to destroy people’s lives. Illegal means — wiretapping, threats of violence, smear campaigns. And I don’t think Mark Arneson should have been out either. There’s nothing worse than a dirty cop. I experienced a whole range of corruption. They say that Los Angeles has no culture, you know? But I beg to differ because it has a vast culture … of corruption. And I’ve seen it firsthand, I’ve lived it.
Pellicano characterizes himself in court papers as older, suffering from an eye condition and not a threat. What do you think he would do if he got out?
Busch: Well, I think if you’re dealing with a sociopath, which is what Mr. Pellicano is, you cannot predict his behavior. You cannot predict the behavior of someone who is going to hire someone to go blow up a reporter’s car. Except you know that he’s a dangerous individual. I think every victim of Pellicano’s will be uncomfortable if he is let out of prison.
Your civil cases against Ovitz and the others have been slow to proceed. That must be frustrating for you.
Busch: I’ve learned throughout this case patience. But I’ve been extremely disgusted with the corruption I’ve seen, and I’d like to talk about that.
OK. What is it that you believe happened, especially to your files?
Busch: When I first met with the deputy district attorney on my case [years ago], he told me that … there were people down the hall from him that had worked with Pellicano. I asked him about the security of my files, and he said that he would even lock them in his drawer or he would have to take them home with him.
Because he was concerned about security?
Busch: This is what he told me. [D.A.] Steve Cooley then runs for attorney general and a number of people who started giving money to Cooley were Pellicano employers [and] some were law firms that represented Pellicano employers. Fast forward [to about a year ago]: I go to find out about my file, whether I should subpoena the file, what’s in it, do I need to subpoena it. And the deputy district attorney goes to order the file and tells me that they don’t know where it is.
When was this?
Busch: In the past year. I became concerned, but he said not to be so concerned because sometimes files are missing. So I waited and I waited and I kept calling and he kept checking, and after months and months, about a year maybe, the deputy district attorney on my case came back and told me that they didn’t know where the file was, the archivists didn’t know where the file was and that he had no reasonable explanation for why the file can’t be found. … The disappearance of my files is … I believe it’s part of a pattern by the D.A. Steve Cooley to protect his allies and make cases and files disappear.
So you don’t believe it was an accident.
Busch: Do you believe it’s an accident?
That’s what I’m asking you.
Busch: Well, at the time that my files were disappearing … Pellicano was working on an appeal and a motion to get him out of prison.
Do you believe there is something in your file that the D.A.’s office doesn’t want anybody to see?
Busch: I don’t know what’s in the file, but I think that they would want all information prior to going forward on any legal brief.
What do you think should be done?
Busch: I think the feds need to get off their asses, and I think there needs to be a special prosecutor assigned. I think L.A. right now is like Chicago in the 1920s, and we need a special prosecutor out here to expose and get rid of the corruption. There’s a history of it in the district attorney’s office; it’s well known. You can read about it in LA Weekly, you can read about it in different places — you know, people have written about it. And it needs to be cleaned up.
This interview will run on June 20, the 10th anniversary of the …
Busch: The attack on my life.
Yes, the attack on your car.
Busch: Not an attack on my car, it was a threat on my life. Although Pellicano likes to say that it was an attack on my car. No, it was an attack, an assault on my life. It was a threat on my life. It was an invasion of my privacy. He did it purposely and willfully and had been doing it for years to a great number of people.
How has your life changed since then?
Busch: It’s completely changed. And I gotta tell you … I don’t think anyone has ever seen the level of corruption that I’ve seen. It’s been very difficult to have people afraid to talk to me on my phone lines because they feel that their privacy is going to be jeopardized. That continues to this day. I think the bigger issue is that there is a culture of corruption out here in Los Angeles and … nobody’s doing anything about it. People just shrug and say, “Oh yeah, that’s what it is, and that’s OK.” And it’s not OK.
When you first started making allegations, a lot of people didn’t believe you; they said you were being paranoid. Some say you are still paranoid. Do you feel somewhat vindicated by what ended up happening in the case?
Busch: Yeah, well, “paranoia” — isn’t that the easiest way to get out of accusations? You know they use that and psychological language in deflecting the attention from themselves; that’s the oldest trick in the book. They use defamation as part of the campaign. They did it to Garry Shandling. They did it to Bo Zenga. They did it to Donna Dubrow. But you know what? We’re not incarcerated. Pellicano, he’s the one in prison, so people know the truth at the end of the day.
In 2008 you told The New York Times that you wanted to find a new career to love. Have you?
Busch: What I’m interested in now is fighting corruption, exposing corruption, helping others who were victimized by the corruption. That’s what drives me right now.
How is your health today?
Busch: I don’t … I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about corruption in the D.A.’s office. I want to talk about the corruption that I’ve been seeing and what’s being done about it.
Have you considered moving?
Busch: I’m in the midst of a lawsuit right now; I can’t move yet.
This may seem like an obvious question, but you haven’t had any interaction with Ovitz lately, have you?
At the trial, he testified about Pellicano — and I’m quoting here: “I’m assuming whatever he did, he did legally. I never instructed him to do anything illegal.” What’s your reaction to that?
Busch: No comment.
Pellicano’s files have never been fully un-encrypted. Do you believe that the full Pellicano story will ever truly be told?
Busch: I don’t know. … Everyone has a different perspective. All you can do is present the facts and let the truth come out of that. Everyone has a different piece of the story.
But do you think all the facts have been brought to light?
And do you believe that there are people in Hollywood who have a desire that that never happens.
Feel free to share names.
Busch: You know who they are.
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