Court tosses minor convictions against celebrity detective

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A racketeering conviction of a private eye who wiretapped phones for rich and famous clients to dig up dirt on rivals, ex-lovers and celebrities was upheld Tuesday by a federal appeals court, though the panel tossed out a few counts against him and co-conspirators.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Anthony Pellicano and his cohorts participated in a "widespread criminal enterprise" that bribed police for confidential information, paid a phone company technician to tap lines and hired a software developer to create the "Telesleuth" program that recorded conversations.

Pellicano, 71, is serving 15 years in prison for targeting stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon to help clients in disputes. Well-heel clients never charged in the scheme included Paramount Pictures Corp. Chairman Brad Grey, billionaire casino owner Kirk Kerkorian and comedian Chris Rock.

The foul-mouthed detective was convicted at two trials of 78 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, wiretapping, wire fraud and identity theft.

The court reversed two counts of aiding and abetting computer fraud and unauthorized computer access. It also reversed two similar counts against ex-cop Mark Arneson and one count of aiding and abetting computer fraud against Rayford Earl Turner, the former SBC phone company employee.

With the major convictions against those men affirmed, federal prosecutors said they would probably ask a judge to impose the same sentences. Arneson and Turner are each serving 10 years in prison.

Pellicano's attorney didn't return messages seeking comment.

Abner Nicherie, a businessman sentenced to 21 months in prison for hiring Pellicano to spy on a rival, had his one count of aiding and abetting a wiretap thrown out. Prosecutors were considering whether to retry him.

Convictions were upheld against Kerkorian's lawyer, Terry Christensen, who employed Pellicano in the MGM mogul's child custody battle. The software developer's convictions were also upheld.

The case against Pellicano was launched after former Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch found a dead fish on her windshield with a sign reading "stop" in 2002. She had been reporting on the financial troubles with Michael Ovitz's talent agency, and the superagent had hired Pellicano to find the source of negative news stories.

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