DECEMBER 9, 2005  

Pellicano's Legal Problems Affect Other Cases
Pellicano's Legal Problems Affect Other Cases

By John Hanusz

Daily Journal Staff Writer

        LOS ANGELES - The allegations at the heart of the federal wiretap investigation of disgraced Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano are now spreading into unrelated cases, court records show.
        A former Los Angeles police sergeant at the center of several lawsuits and criminal appeals is fending off questions about his ties to Pellicano.
 
        During a recent deposition, Mark Arneson invoked his Fifth Amendment right nine times to avoid answering questions about Pellicano, according to the records.
        Some lawyers question whether Pellicano's notoriety is being used as a way to attack Arneson's credibility.
        Arneson has denied any wrongdoing.
        Invoking the Fifth Amendment "can be powerful and damning evidence and can actually make the plaintiff's case stronger where he doesn't have all the facts at hand," Michael J. Proctor, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer not associated with the cases, said.
        "It can greatly impact the jury or the judge," Proctor said.
        Lawyer Hermez Moreno, who questioned Arneson in connection with a civil rights lawsuit filed over alleged police misconduct, said he wasn't displeased by the former sergeant's refusal to answer questions about Pellicano.
        "We have what we want," Moreno said. "If he admits [to the association or the conduct], it's great for us. If he takes the Fifth, it's great for us, too."
        Pellicano, serving 30 months in prison on federal weapons charges, is widely expected to be indicted on wiretap charges in the near future. Long a fixture on the Hollywood circuit, Pellicano has included pop star Michael Jackson, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone among his clients. Sources have said Pellicano engaged in a massive illegal taping of subjects of his investigations and even his own clients.
 
        The case has gripped the Los Angeles legal community, particularly the many high-profile entertainment lawyers who employed Pellicano over the years.
        Entertainment law titan Bert Fields has acknowledged he is a subject of the grand jury's interest but has not been informed he is a target of the probe. No one has been publicly charged in the case so far.
        Nevertheless, some lawyers are wading into the fringes of the case hoping to use the allegations to bolster their cases.
        In three unrelated cases, lawyers have raised or say they plan to raise questions about Pellicano's actions.
        "We're hoping to be able to explore the relationship," Amy E. Jacks, a Santa Monica lawyer who has a civil rights lawsuit pending against the Los Angeles Police Department.
        While on the force, Arneson accessed LAPD databases for Pellicano, according to sources close to the case.
 
        After retiring from the force in 2003, Arneson opened his own private investigation firm. He retired after the department placed him on inactive status as a result of a joint LAPD/FBI investigation into alleged misconduct.
        LAPD spokesman Lt. Paul Vernon said the department's internal investigation was "primarily over" and the findings were forwarded to the U.S. attorney's office.
        "It's out of our hands now," he said.
        Vernon declined to comment on issues raised in pending lawsuits involving Arneson.
        Sources close to the case say federal prosecutors are probing the allegations that Arneson accessed confidential law enforcement information for Pellicano.
        Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel A. Saunders, who is leading the wiretap probe, would not comment on the investigation.
 
        Arneson's counsel, Donald G. Forgey, also declined to comment.
        But during Arneson's deposition in Lavont Guillory's civil rights lawsuit taken in August, Forgey of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith interjected when Pellicano's name came up.
        "I think I'm going to have to instruct him not to answer any questions specifically with regard to Mr. Pellicano because of the pending investigation," Forgey said, and asserted the Fifth Amendment on his client's behalf, according to a transcript.
        Following his lawyer's advice, Arneson did not answer the question.
        So it went for all inquiries relating to Pellicano, including when was the first or last time Arneson worked with Pellicano, whether he accessed LAPD databases on Pellicano's behalf, Arneson's knowledge of any state, federal or LAPD investigations of his conduct, and whether Arneson made a deal with the LAPD to retire rather than face discipline for his alleged misconduct.
        During the deposition, Arneson did deny any misconduct.
        Assistant City Attorney Robert Brown, who attended the deposition on behalf of the city, could not be reached for comment.
        Proctor of Caldwell, Leslie, Newcombe and Pettit in Los Angeles cautioned that a person may well assert his Fifth Amendment rights not because he is actually guilty but because he is "aware of a criminal investigation and doesn't want his words to be misconstrued against him."
        Arneson was being questioned in connection with a civil rights lawsuit filed by Guillory, who was released in 2003 after serving more than 10 years in state prison for a murder he says he did not commit.
 
        He sued the city of Los Angeles and Arneson, the lead detective on his case, alleging misconduct that resulted in his conviction.
 Guillory v. City of Los Angeles, 04CV-9608 (C.D. Cal., filed Nov. 23, 2004).
        In the lawsuit, Guillory contends Arneson coerced witnesses to testify falsely during his investigation.
 
        Guillory's civil lawyers, Moreno and Frank J. Perez of Los Angeles, are making Arneson's association with Pellicano part of their case.
        In another wrongful-prosecution suit, Harold Hall, convicted in 1990 of two murders, sued the city of Los Angeles, Arneson and others for allegedly fabricating evidence in a capital trial where he received a life sentence.
 
        Hall was released after the 9th
 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his conviction. Hall v. City of Los Angeles, 05CV-1977 (C.D. Cal., filed March 18, 2005).
        Hall's civil attorney, John Burton of Pasadena, said he too plans to explore Arneson's connection to Pellicano in discovery.
        "We definitely plan on looking into it," Burton said.
        John A. Wright, who is defending the city in Hall's suit, could not be reached for comment.
        Prosecutors have denied that Arneson committed misconduct in the case.
        Forgey is representing Arneson in the suit.
        And then there is Erik Portocarrero, who pleaded guilty to bookmaking charges in 2003. He filed a habeas corpus petition last year to overturn his conviction, citing what he called "significant evidence" of Arneson's assisting Pellicano "in a pattern of wiretapping, intimidation and criminal threats." Arneson was the lead detective in the bookmaking investigation, the petition states.
 In re Portocarrero, SA043913 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed March 15, 2004).
        After Portocarrero's 2001 arrest, his brother allegedly received calls from an investigator whose name he recalled as "Anthony Pellegrino" who said he knew people working on Portocarrero's case who "could make things go away" for a fee starting at $100,000.
        Jacks, Portocarrero's attorney, said her client's brother later came to believe that "Anthony Pellegrino" was indeed Pellicano.
        Jacks argued the failure of the government to disclose the connection between Arneson and Pellicano and the existence of a joint LAPD/FBI probe into Arneson's activities deprived her client of his constitutional rights.
        "Had the connection ... been disclosed, [Portocarrero] could have established that the investigation was intended to produce an illegitimate financial gain for the police officer leading it," the petition alleges.
        An evidentiary hearing is scheduled on Portocarrero's claims in February. In discovery, Jacks said she requested phone and financial records seized in the 2002 raids on Pellicano's offices from the district attorney's office but has received none to date.
        Although she has not yet compiled a witness list, Jacks said the Pellicano issue would be raised at the hearing.
        Deputy District Attorney Andrew J. McMullen, filing a response to the allegations, has denied there was any wrong-doing by law enforcement in Portocarrerro's case.
 

 

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