Fear and Loathing in LA: Bugging Scandal Reveals Hollywood's Paranoia

By Lars-Olav Beier and John Goetz

Part 3: Above the Law

Who is the most sought-after writer of the moment? What deals have been cut recently? Which bestseller has just been bought? How much was paid for it? As far back as the silent-movie era, the studios opened the mail of stars and starlets who threatened to get out of control, and even questioned neighbors to find out everything they could about them.

If, for example, a producer died under mysterious circumstances on the yacht of billionaire William Randolph Hearst, fixers were hired to sweep the dirt under the carpet, and bribe police officers and pathologists. Often enough, this helped stars and directors alike escape punishment.

Hollywood has always had the reputation of being a place where anything can be purchased, even immunity from prosecution. A rumor currently doing the rounds claims that several movie moguls who escaped prosecution as part of the Pellicano trial had paid money to members of his family.

"I'm sure a lot of studio executives are thinking about helping Anthony," says Nazarian. "Because of the people involved in that story, major players in the media, the story got very little coverage," he adds, suspiciously little.

Trial testimony shows that Pellicano was hired by Brad Grey, the boss of Paramount Studios and one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, to investigate a screenplay writer who had pressed charges against Grey for alleged plagiarism. Pellicano bugged the writer's phone, though Grey denies any knowledge of this. Pellicano is also known to have used illegal means to investigate a woman who claimed that actor Chris Rock had fathered her child. A recording of a conversation between Rock and Pellicano, in which the star discusses having sex with the woman, has intermittently been available as an audio file on the Internet.

McTiernan hadn't had any dealings with Pellicano for some time when he received a call from an FBI agent in 2006. In the interim he had shot another movie, the thriller "Basic," starring John Travolta. He had just returned to Wyoming from Thailand, where he had been preparing another action film.

Upon advice from his attorney, McTiernan pleaded guilty to having lied to an FBI agent. The case has since been turned completely on its head, partly because McTiernan then withdrew his guilty plea and pleaded not-guilty. Then he was charged with having lied before a court by making mutually exclusive statements before a judge. After another round of attorneys, he then pleaded guilty again and was sentenced to one year in prison in October 2010. He is now appealing the sentence on technical grounds. It is still impossible to say when his case will finally be over.

McTiernan stands at the window of an airy wooden house, and looks out into the snow. He had had the house set up especially for screenplay writers who fly in from Hollywood. "When I met him, I realized Chuck Roven would would never be involved in anything like that," he says.

McTiernan hasn't made a feature film in eight years. In the past, he would pop down to Los Angeles aboard a private jet. "I never belonged to the Hollywood community," he says. "I was always an outsider."

He even shot a documentary about Karl Rove, George W. Bush's influential senior advisor, and his alleged attempts to criminalize elected officials and Democratic Party sympathizers. It was called "The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove." Some of the claims are well documented, and Scott Horton, a law professor at New York's Columbia University, is convinced the Bush administration had a political bias in many Justice Department investigations.

McTiernan believes it was Rove who had steered the prosecution against Pellicano because, McTiernen believes, the private investigator worked for the Clinton camp back in 1992 as part of a campaign to discredit statements by an alleged mistress of Bill Clinton. It would have been very convenient to have an investigation into Hillary Clinton in 2008 during the presidential campaign. Rove has denied such allegations. McTiernan, for his part, maintains: "This is not simply a local Hollywood prosecution. The decisions were made in Washington, DC."

Daniel Saunders, 48, the public prosecutor in the case, says that the Rove theory is "ludicrous -- this investigation was run out of California, there was no direction out of Washington, DC. The reality is that John McTiernan committed a crime and he got caught." Saunders recently joined the huge law firm Bingham as part of its white collar investigations team.

McTiernan himself appears in the documentary and argues in the film, "Americans are afraid of their government: Say that to yourself a couple of times. We could strip every tree off the Sierra, we could burn coal till the sky was black, and we would not so poison the world as much as if we left our children with that ugly little phrase."

Outside the snow is still falling. McTiernan says he feels betrayed by his own country, and his eyes well up.

Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt

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