Judge drops 28 charges in Hollywood wiretap case

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A judge on Thursday dropped nearly half the charges against “private eye to the stars” Anthony Pellicano and a co-defendant at the request of prosecutors, who were preparing to rest their case in the wiretapping and bribery trial.

Private detective Anthony Pellicano is shown in this 1993 file photo. A judge dropped nearly half of the charges against "private eye to the stars" Pellicano on April 10, 2008 at the request of prosecutors, who were preparing to rest their case in the wiretapping and bribery trial. REUTERS/Sam Mircovich/Files

The 28 counts against Pellicano and ex-Los Angeles police sergeant Mark Arneson were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer after federal prosecutors said that witnesses required to prove them could not be brought to court.

Both men still face 35 counts in the case, which centers on accusations that Pellicano wiretapped telephones and bribed police and telephone company officials to run illegal checks on those causing trouble for his rich and famous clients.

Pellicano, who has pleaded innocent and is acting as his own lawyer in the case, and four co-defendants were originally indicted on more than 100 criminal counts. The 64-year-old Hollywood private eye could spend decades in prison if convicted.

The charges were dropped as prosecutors prepared to call their final witnesses in the high-profile case, which began on March 6 and has already seen testimony from comics Garry Shandling and Chris Rock, Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey and former Walt Disney Co executive Michael Ovitz.

Defense attorneys were expected to begin calling their witnesses as early as Friday.

Ovitz, once one of the most powerful players in Hollywood, told the court on Wednesday that he hired Pellicano to investigate journalists writing negative stories about him but said he never told the detective to threaten anyone or use wiretapping.

“I never instructed him (Pellicano) to do anything illegally,” Ovitz told the Los Angeles jury.

Prosecutors allege it was Pellicano who in June 2002 left a dead fish with a rose in its mouth and a note saying “Stop” on the shattered car windshield of Los Angeles Times investigative journalist Anita Busch.

Busch’s complaint to police triggered a raid on Pellicano’s Hollywood office that eventually led to his trial.

Testifying this week, Busch said she was also accosted by two men outside her Los Angeles apartment who tried to run her down. “I remember thinking I was going to die,” she said.