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Pellicano Trial: Tarita Virtue Takes The Stand

Mr. Pellicano's lengthy and often pointless cross-examination of several government agents responsible for getting evidence off of the investigator's computers this morning was mind-numbingly dull. When Mr. Pellicano repeated for the third time that he was going to try again and explain his question to one unlucky government witness, I was tempted to stick a pen in my own eye. I guess the Judge was also in pain, because just when I didn't think I could take it anymore, she coldly suggested that Mr. Pellicano "wrap it up." I waited for the entire courtroom--especially the other defense attorneys-- to burst into applause as Pellicano irritably closed his notebook and returned to his seat.

The energy in the room definitely picked up when former Pellicano employee, Tarita Virtue took the stand. She was kind enough to spell out her name for the clerk, noting that "Virtue" is spelled with a "V" as in Vegas. With her dark suit, black turtleneck and subdued make-up, I barely recognized her as the sexy, scantily clad would-be private investigator from her website This is the same woman who Maxim named "sexiest private investigator" of the year. The only sign of the website Tarita was her sometimes salty language. When she told Pellicano she was quitting because of his abuse towards other employees, she testified that he told her "then you fucking leave." And she did. But, she was careful to let the jury know that even though she quit suddenly and found working at the agency abusive and difficult, she has no bad feelings towards Mr. Pellicano. Well, except for the fact that he had her doing work that almost got her sent to prison. But otherwise, it's all good between them.

I knew from having reviewed her 302-the notes of her interview with the F.B.I.--that when she was questioned, Ms. Virtue admitted doing some bad things during the two years she worked at the Pellicano Investigative Agency. According to Tarita's 302, she'd spent a lot of time at the agency listening to illegal wiretaps and the main part of her job was transcribing them for her then boss, Anthony Pellicano. And, then there was the time she spent reviewing police computer runs sent to Mr. Pellicano by Mr. Arneson. But, besides all that stuff, she made sure to tell the F.B.I., that she made it very clear to Mr. Pellicano that she wasn't going to sleep with him. So, I guess if he wanted to see "Tarita Virtue:EXPOSED", he'd have to go on her website--just like everyone else. Tough break for the old guy.

Therefore, when she took the stand today, Mr. Saunders quickly explained to the jury that Ms. Virtue was testifying under what is known as "use immunity"--meaning that she had an agreement with the government that anything she said on the stand could not be used as evidence against her in a criminal prosecution. So, with the pesky problem of potential jail time out of the way, Ms. Virtue sat back and started chatting about her days at the Pellicano Investigative Agency. She pleasantly admitted that one of her jobs was to listen to wiretapped recordings. "Anthony asked me to transcribe wiretapped recordings," she said proudly. He taught her about Telesleuth because he trusted her. She even explained that before she could listen to the wiretaps, Pellicano would have to enter one password and then, he would have to enter a second password. Then, she'd open the program and there would be tons of phone numbers listed. "It was remarkable," she said of the program. "It was able to record both incoming and outgoing calls." Well done, Mr. Kachikian, the inventor of the program. Well, actually, I should say Mr. Pellicano since yesterday he claimed all credit for the program. She even could use a button that could translate the sounds of touch tones (people calling someone) and translate them into actual numbers. Very convenient. Her job was to listen to these recordings and get as much information as possible. But, she didn't need Anthony to really tell her that because she was very efficient.

Apparently, the second password to get into the Telesleuth program was usually about four words--and generally contained the word "Omerta." Tarita thought that the word "omerta" was the name of Mario Puzzo's final book. (It translates to "code of silence". A concept clearly lost of Ms. Virtue at this point.) Mr. Saunders then posted an exhibit on the screen which appeared to list a few passwords. The first line read "sissy" and on the same line it read Cruise missile omerta. When Saunders inquired as to whether that code word referred to Tom Cruise, Ms. Virtue guessed that it did. He cautioned her not to guess--but I had to believe she was on the right track. (After all, this is the same woman who told the FBI that Bert Fields, Mr. Cruise's attorney, was a regular caller to Mr. Pellicano's office. So, she's probably made a fairly educated guess. Not good enough to be evidence, but okay for those who just want to gossip. I give you permission.) The next line included the code words "Laviolette omerta"--supposedly a reference to a tape of John LaViolette, a respected entertainment attorney involved in litigation with a client of Mr. Pellicano's, former actor and producer, Andrew Stevens. And then, there was a reference to Vincent "Bo" Zenga, a screenwriter who was in litigation with Brad Grey, then a well known manager who is now the head of Paramount. The line referring to Mr. Zenga read "Gypsy boy" on the left and then on the right, VincentBoZenga Omerta Final. Of the Bo Zenga file, Tarita happily admitted "that was one I listened to." Ah, good times. Also on the exhibit that Mr. Saunders showed Ms. Virtue, there was a line reading AB (as in Anita Busch) and then on the same line, catholicgirlomerta. Mr. Saunders did not ask Tarita to speculate on who AB might refer to or on the code word next to the initials. The key thing that Ms. Virtue explained today in only an hour on the stand (she's set to return on Tuesday) was that Mr. Pellicano had the ability to have five computers running at the same time, recording calls in the office, as well as computers running at off-site locations. The office computers could only listen in on calls in the 310 area code--a code that covers most of West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. If you wanted to wiretap someone in the valley, it was going to cost you more because according to Tarita, Mr. Pellicano would have to rent out an apartment and set up computers near his target phone. So, finally a good reason to actually live in the valley.

When she wasn't accusing Mr. Pellicano of being a wiretapping genius, Ms. Virtue made time to go after two of the other defendants in the case--former Sgt. Arneson and telephone repair expert, Ray Turner. She said that both men were often at Mr. Pellicano's office and that whenever clients arrived, Pellicano gave instructions to hide both of the men in the kitchen. She admitted that former Sgt. Arneson often showed up in his uniform at the office--but insisted that he was still trying to not be noticed whenever he came to the office. She claimed that both men showed up at the office at least three times a week and both often left with envelopes filled with cash. According to Tarita, Ray Turner, the SBC employee, was the man who helped Mr. Pellicano set up the wiretaps and he was paid handsomely out of the safe in Mr. Pellicano's office. She said that she personally witnessed Pellicano hand Mr. Turner an envelope filled with cash. She actually sounded a little on the jealous side. Guess that website doesn't pay too much. She added, that on occasion, Mr. Turner also got checks issued by the office account on a few occasions. She didn't know how much they were paid--but she did know that it was a lot. As for former Sgt. Arneson, she remembered having received all sorts of faxed information from him--including driver's license pictures (which were subsequently doctored to conceal where they'd come from), criminal histories, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and other personal information. So from what she was saying, it sounds like when Mr. Turner and Mr. Arneson weren't busy hiding in the kitchen, they were in the back getting envelopes of cash (or traceable checks in Mr. Turner's case) and then, somehow slipping out into the dark night. And, they were doing this--at least the visiting part, allegedly three times a week.

And, don't think that Ms. Virtue isn't ready for the defense to cross-examine her. When Mr. Saunders wryly proposed a defense argument, suggesting that Mr. Pellicano might have been functioning as a law enforcement source for Mr. Arneson, Ms. Virtue quipped, "That's asinine. That makes no sense." Ah, so that's a no. Tarita Virtue is set to retake the witness stand on Tuesday morning where she will undoubtedly chat about the content of the various calls Ms. Virtue transcribed--including calls involving a number of famous names.

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