Anthony Pellicano: The Hollywood Phone Hacker Breaks His Silence

By Pelisek, Christine | Newsweek, August 15, 2011 | Go to article overview

Anthony Pellicano: The Hollywood Phone Hacker Breaks His Silence


Pelisek, Christine, Newsweek


Byline: Christine Pelisek

Long before the Murdoch empire's illegal high jinks,

he was the private eye that stars feared (and used) most.

Now locked up in a federal prison, he comes clean

on spying for Schwarzenegger, clearing Cruise's name--

and why he dumped Michael Jackson.

Inmate No. 21568-112 settles into a blue plastic chair inside the gymnasium-size visitor center at Big Spring Federal Correctional Institution, clad in a beige jumpsuit that matches the color of the dead grass surrounding the prison. Beyond the barbed wire lies the town of Big Spring, Texas (population: 25,000), a dusty, godforsaken former Air Force town pockmarked with shuttered businesses, fast-food joints, and four other detention and correctional facilities. The town's biggest claim to fame was its supporting role in the 1969 best picture, Midnight Cowboy: this is the place Jon Voight's character calls home, until he heads off to Manhattan to become a hustler.

And now it's home to the hustler named Anthony Pellicano, self-styled Detective to the Stars, whose Soprano persona and win-at-any-cost tactics made him the No. 1 guy that Hollywood actors, suits, and their attorneys turned to whenever they had a problem. A big problem. The kind of problem where big bucks and bigger egos were at stake. With a Louisville Slugger in the trunk of his car and a computerized phone-hacking system in his Sunset Boulevard office, Pellicano dug up dirt on his clients' enemies and helped make those problems go away--whether it was the embittered spouse of a mogul, an inconvenient gay lover, or a nosy journalist. That is, until he allegedly hired someone to intimidate the wrong nosy journalist--Anita Busch of the Los Angeles Times--and the FBI got involved, blowing the lid off the biggest wiretapping operation this side of Watergate.

On this 106-degree summer day, Pellicano has agreed to his first sit-down interview since going to prison in 2008. His case has long since disappeared from the front pages, replaced lately by the News of the World quagmire that has tarred Rupert Murdoch, David Cameron, and Scotland Yard. The way Pellicano sees it, the British phone-hacking scandal is kid stuff. "I was way ahead of my time," he says. What's the big deal about some tabloid hijacking Hugh Grant's voicemails? "If Murdoch's name wasn't involved, would there be a story? If someone wiretapped Britney Spears, no one would care. The story is, did Murdoch know people were doing this? Did he condone it? I strongly believe he had no idea."

Pellicano claims never to have lent his services to any of Murdoch's newspapers, and says he met the mogul only once, "but it had to do with Judith Regan," his former longtime friend, who was fired from News Corp.'s HarperCollins in 2006. (Regan says she never introduced the two men.) "If News of the World called," he says hypothetically, "I would ask the editor, 'Why would you want me to do that? Are you stupid?!' The guy at News of the World was just getting leads for stories." Pellicano boasts that "I was the top of the ladder. Just to talk to me it cost $25,000. These guys were stringers who worked with reporters to try to get information on a celebrity!"

Now 67, Pellicano looks trimmer than the paunchy figure in the double-breasted suits and patent-leather shoes he wore during his trial. His blustery temper seems to have subsided: gone are the days when he would toss a plate of spinach across the dining room at Le Dome because the garlic was chopped instead of sliced. He affects an air of Zen-like calm: you can envision him spreading out on a yoga mat and stretching into the downward-dog pose. He spends his days writing haiku, playing chess, and doing crosswords.

Before the convict was cooling his heels with more than 1,700 other inmates here in Big Spring, his milieu was the liposuctioned underbelly of Hollywood Babylon. "If you saw the stuff I found in celebrity homes: cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy, vials of narcotics. …

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