Infamous Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano is the subject of a new documentary Sin Eater: The Crimes of Anthony Pellicano. The two-part special debuts on March 10 at 10 p.m. on FX and will stream on Hulu.
Pellicano—whose reported clients have included Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Farrah Fawcett, Kevin Coster, and Chris Rock—gained a reputation as a fixer who could dig up dirt on his clients’ enemies to make them go away. But Pellicano’s ruthless methods were eventually his undoing, as he served extensive prison time for weapons charges as well as racketeering, wiretapping, and other crimes.
With his story back in the spotlight, here’s what you need to know about the 78-year-old Pellicano.
How Did He Become a Private Investigator?
Anthony Joseph Pellicano was born on March 22, 1944, and grew up in Cicero, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He was raised by a single mother and told the Los Angeles Times in a 1993 article that he was kicked out of high school at 16 because he was “too interested in being a tough guy.” Later, he joined the Army Signal Corps and worked as a cryptographer while he earned his GED.
It was during this time that Pellicano, who had been known as Tony Pellican, returned the “o” to his surname. His grandfather dropped the letter when the family left Sicily, but Anthony added it back to honor his heritage.
Back in Chicago, he became a bill collector for the Spiegel catalog, working under the pseudonym “Tony Fortune.” He had his own investigative business by 1969.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Pellicano was known for his hyperbole and showiness. He drove twin Lincoln Continentals and had samurai swords on his office walls. He also used a controversial device called a psychological stress evaluator, which purported to measure signs of deception in the voice.
By 1975, he claimed a “perfect score” in locating 3,964 missing persons. He once found a wealthy executive’s daughter whom other detectives had sought for five years. He was thriving professionally in other ways, too, serving on the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission. But his sterling reputation soon began to tarnish.
The Commission, which was responsible for awarding federal crime funds, pressured Pellicano into resigning in 1976 following reports that he accepted a $30,000 loan from the son of mobster Paul de Lucia. Pellicano said Paul de Lucia Jr. was a childhood friend and that he had borrowed the money because the cost of starting his agency had driven him to bankruptcy. He denied connections to the criminal world.
Then, in 1977, Pellicano played a key role in solving the grave robbery of producer Michael Todd, who had been married to Elizabeth Taylor when he died in a plane crash in 1958. Pellicano notified police he had an informant who knew where Todd’s bones had been moved. The P.I. said the robbers were after a 10-carat diamond ring they believed to be in Todd’s casket. While a government sentencing report states two mob figures exhumed the remains, some around Chicago believe Pellicano orchestrated the event for publicity.
Who Were His Clients?
Pellicano moved to Los Angeles in 1983, and his first job was assisting the defense of former auto executive John Z. DeLorean, who was facing drug selling charges. Pellicano dissected government tapes and helped undermine key prosecution witnesses, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Soon after, he was connected to a number of big stars from film and music.
Working with Kevin Costner’s lawyer, Pellicano tried to undermine the credibility of a woman claiming she had a secret 11-year friendship with the actor. She was paid $30,000 by a London tabloid for details. “She was trying to extort Kevin Costner,” Pelicano said. “We exposed her for what she was.”
In 1989, he set up a reunion between Roseanne Barr and the 17-year-old daughter she had put up for adoption at birth ahead of an impending National Enquirer article.
For Michael Jackson, Pellicano investigated his sister La Toya’s husband and manager, Jack Gordon, shortly before her best-selling memoir released. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jackson hired Pellicano again to investigate one of the families accusing the pop superstar of child molestation. Speaking to Newsweek in 2011, Pellicano said he told Jackson he would only work for him if he wasn’t guilty. However, he quit because he found out “Jackson did something far worse to young boys molest them.” He didn’t elaborate further.
Pellicano also boasted to Newsweek that he helped discredit an erotic wrestler claiming he had an affair with Tom Cruise. The actor later sued the man for slander and reportedly won a multimillion-dollar default judgment.
Why Did He Go to Prison the First Time?
Pellicano’s shocking downfall began in 2002.
According to The New Yorker, journalist Anita M. Busch, a contract employee for the Los Angeles Times, had been writing a series of investigative stories about the film industry and Hollywood superagent Michael Ovitz. One story alleged that mob money may have financed a film starring Steven Seagal.
On June 20, Busch discovered the windshield of her Audi had cracked. On top lay a dead fish holding a rose in its mouth. A note simply saying “stop” was also left at the scene. Busch told police that over the next few months, someone had tapped her phone, hacked into her computer, and tried to run her over.
Both Seagal and Pellicano denied involvement with the initial threat against Busch, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, a man began calling Busch claiming he knew who carried it out.
When Los Angeles police confronted this informant, he agreed to wear a wire at meetings with ex-convict Alexander Proctor, who he said was responsible for the vandalism. According to an FBI document, Proctor said in a July 3 conversation that he had intimidated the reporter at the request of “Anthony” who was “a big investigator in Los Angeles.”
After obtaining search warrants for Pellicano’s office, FBI agents discovered explosives, two hand grenades, loaded pistols, and about $200,000 in cash in his safe in November 2002. Pellicano is said to have told an agent that the materials “were from an old case of his and that he had forgotten they were there.” He was arrested and arraigned on weapons charges.
According to Variety, Pellicano pleaded guilty to a felony count of possessing unregistered firearms and a felony charge of possessing C-4 explosives in October 2003. He went to prison that November and received a 30-month sentence a few months later on January 25, 2004.
What about the Wiretapping?
The weapons and explosives were only the start of Pellicano’s legal problems, as authorities also found hundreds of hours of encrypted, illegally wiretapped conversations in his office, according to The New Yorker.
Pellicano and six associates were indicted on charges of racketeering, wiretapping, bribery, perjury, and destroying evidence in February 2006, just as his first prison term was set to end. Although the indictment didn’t identify his clients, they were known to include Ovitz; Brad Grey, the head of Paramount; and Ron Meyer, the president of Universal Studios.
Pellicano was accused of directing a conspiracy aimed at blackmailing and intimidating dozens of celebrities and business executives, according to the Los Angeles Times. They included actor Sylvester Stallone and comedian Gary Shandling.
Pellicano represented himself at his 2008 trial and was convicted of 78 felony offenses. He was sentenced to serve 15 additional years in prison in Big Spring, Texas, and to forfeit more than $2 million in proceeds from his business. He asked to be released on bail in 2012, but a federal judge denied this because she was not convinced Pellicano “was no longer a threat to society.” Pellicano was released from Terminal Island prison in California, where he was moved in 2015, on his 75th birthday: March 22, 2019.
What Is Anthony Pellicano Doing Now?
In 2021, Pellicano told Variety he was working for Joel Silver, the producer of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, in an arbitration case with former financier Daryl Katz.
A year later, Pellicano worked as “a negotiator” for Katz, the billionaire owner of the Edmonton Oilers NHL franchise. Katz was named in a misconduct lawsuit alleging he had sex with a teenage dancer. The allegations were dismissed in court, according to Variety, but Pellicano said he was hired to help them be dismissed “with prejudice.” This meant they could not be the subject of future legal proceedings.
Pellicano also wrote a crime novel, The Neighborhood, that was published in April 2022. The “not-so-fictional fiction” tale—clearly inspired by events in Pellicano’s life—is a “gritty glimpse into Chicago’s criminal underworld” and tells the story of two friends: Paulie, an FBI agent, and private investigator Vincent.
As of August 2022, Pellicano said he is not doing any private investigation work, saying it would be “intellectually stupid” of him. He is no longer licensed to work as a private eye. He told Variety the majority of his work involves corporate disputes and #MeToo cases.
Does Anthony Pellicano Have a Family?
According to a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, Pellicano has nine children. He has been married at least six times.
His most notable relationship was with ex-wife Kat Pellicano. The two first met in 1984 and, according to Vanity Fair, had four children together: daughters Alana, Tori, and Josi, and a son named Luca, whom they raised in suburban Oak Park, California. They divorced in September 2002 and then remarried in 2007, according to Deadline. It’s not clear whether they are still together.
While separated from Kat, Pelicano married then-42-year-old Theresa Ann DeLucio in November 2003—only two days before starting his prison sentence for possessing illegal explosives—at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel.
Tyler Piccotti joined the Biography.com staff in 2023, and before that had worked almost eight years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor. He is a graduate of Syracuse University, an avid sports fan, a frequent moviegoer, and trivia buff.