Jacko’s ruthless fixer is back, and Hollywood is ‘quaking’
The singer's former protector is free after 15 years in jail, and he's got a lot of dirt on a lot of very important people
The aftershocks of the Leaving Neverland documentary are reverberating still, but as anyone who is familiar with the Michael Jackson story knows, the first allegations of child sexual abuse against the singer were made more than 25 years ago.
Now, one of the principal characters in that story – Anthony Pellicano, the ruthless former private investigator to the stars – looks set to fan the flames anew after he will finally walked free on Friday following a 15-year prison sentence.
It was he who handled Jackson’s negotiations with Evan Chandler, who accused the King of Pop of sexually abusing his 13-year-old son Jordan “Jordy” Chandler in 1993 – accusations Pellicano later labelled “an extortion attempt”.
Indeed, Pellicano knows everything about everyone. He pops up in unexpected places in US history, offering his opinion to select committees – on the Watergate tapes, on JFK’s assassination. When he was arrested in 2002, FBI agents found more than 150,000 pages of transcriptions taken from covert recordings. Many powerful men have reason to be afraid of what they contain.
“For 30 years I’ve been a sin eater for the rich and famous,” Pellicano said in 2003 on being jailed for crimes ranging from possession of plastic explosives and hand grenades, to wiretapping, racketeering, protection, intimidation, witness tampering and evidence destruction. “I just ate one sin too many.”
When I interviewed Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed, I asked him why he believed there hadn’t been a domino effect when the first allegation emerged in 1993. He told me that he thought that people had been – and still were – terrified of “the Jackson machine”, “the brute force of his lawyers”, whom he described as “very frightening and capable. They basically silenced or vilified anyone who dared to say there’s something unusual about Jackson’s relationship with little children,” he told me.
“There were probably very few lengths [Jackson] was not prepared to go to to destroy and discredit a child who claimed that he’d been hurt by him.”
In the early 1990s, Bert Fields – known as “Hollywood’s scariest lawyer”, who has represented Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman – hired Pellicano, who Reed describes as a “terrifying character”. A specialist in electronic surveillance – especially phone tapping, it would transpire – Pellicano would cultivate police sources while letting his reputation for violent intimidation do some of his work for him. In a 1992 GQ interview, he boasted: “I’m an expert with a knife. I can shred your face.”
Hiring him to conduct negotiations with Evan Chandler, then, was the equivalent of setting a pit bull on the family. Although it is not suggested that Bert Fields was party to, or had knowledge of, any unlawful actions by Pellicano.
The first of Pellicano’s many charges followed a 2002 incident involving LA Times reporter Anita Busch, who had been attempting to prove that Steven Seagal was being threatened by the Mafia. She found the windscreen of her car punctured as if by a bullet, a note that said “Stop” and a tin foil package that contained a dead fish and a rose.
Before his conviction, the private eye had sought to “disappear” problems from clients including Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner and Arnold Schwarzenegger – the latter of whom he alleges to have “personal stuff” on that, had he made it known, would have stopped him from becoming governor of California.
John McTiernan, director of Die Hard, was jailed for 10 months in 2013 after admitting to lying to the FBI about hiring Pellicano to wiretap a former associate.
Pellicano, who was released on his 75th birthday, is of a type that has operated in and around the entertainment business for a long time. Take Eddie Mannix, MGM’s general manager from the 1930s to the 60s, who worked closely with Howard Strickling, head of publicity for the studio. Together, they sought to maintain the public image of MGM’s roster of stars, squashing tabloid stories, arranging and covering up abortions for Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and Lana Turner, and hiding Spencer Tracy’s alcoholism.
Meanwhile, infamous private detective Fred Otash cited listening in on Marilyn Monroe having sex with JFK and working for Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn on his list of nefarious credits. “I’ll do anything short of murder,” he once said.
Pellicano, it seemed, fitted that mould. There was talk that a biopic or TV series based on his adventures would be made. He was instantly recognisable from his double-breasted silk suits and mirror shades; the walls of his office were decorated in red velvet, and his phone’s hold music was the theme from The Godfather. He claimed to have an IQ of 167 and denied being a part of the Mafia – yet was happy to use his reputation to strike fear into those who crossed him. In one leaked audiotape from a conversation with Courtney Love, discussing the services she wanted from a private eye, he told her: “I’m an old-style Sicilian ... My clients are my family and that’s it.”
Born into a working-class home in Chicago in 1944, Pellicano left school early to join the army signal corps. He later worked as a debt collector and soon realised that he had a talent for finding people who didn’t want to be found, setting up as a private investigator.
His passport to Hollywood arrived when he located the remains of Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband, Mike Todd, in a Chicago graveyard, after fears the corpse had been stolen for the diamond ring he had been buried with.
In LA, his reputation grew, and it’s claimed that he helped expose the unexplained 18-minute gap in the Nixon Watergate tapes. Certainly his name is on government documents relating to the 1976-9 re-investigation of the assassination of JFK, in which he presented a critique of the sound recordings that disputed the evidence of there being more than three shots. The former attorney for Birmingham, Alabama, said in court that Pellicano had enhanced undercover recordings of Ku Klux Klansman Thomas Blanton jnr, in which he implicated himself in the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church that killed four schoolgirls.
Meanwhile, rumours have continued to swirl. He went on record to deny having been the unnamed private eye who, it was alleged, had been shadowing OJ Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, when she and Ronald Goldman were murdered. The lead investigator in the murder trial later alleged that Pellicano had bugged Brown Simpson’s home with the same equipment that he had employed at Neverland.
Pellicano handled the Jackson case by talking Jordy’s stepfather into recording conversations with Chandler, whose son had told a psychologist that he had had a sexual relationship with the singer that went on for several months, and included kissing, masturbation and oral sex. The psychologist opined that there was “reasonable suspicion” that he had been abused. But the private eye’s illicit wiretapping recorded the senior Chandler as describing the case between his son and Jackson as a “massacre ... if I don’t get what I want” – all of which formed the basis of Pellicano’s argument to the press that the claim was part of an extortion plot.
The case went to trial, but Jackson agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $23m.
Mystery remains over a suitcase that a Jackson chauffeur said he had delivered to Pellicano’s residence in a sworn deposition, according to reports, but Pellicano has denied this. Pellicano’s fourth wife, Kat, later said that she had found a bag of documents relating to Jackson under a bed in their home after they split.
In February 2018, Pellicano told The Hollywood Reporter that he had “fired” Jackson because he was disgusted by truths “even darker” than those alleged in the Chandler case. “I was offered $500,000 to tell the whole story by a tabloid and I declined,” he said. It echoed a 2008 Newsweek interview: “I quit because I found out some truths ... He did something far worse to young boys than molest them.”
“A lot of people are quaking that I’m going to disclose lots of things when I get out,” Pellicano said in 2018, adding, in typical chilling fashion: “They’ll just have to keep quaking, won’t they?”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited