The excellent and well documented article from the French news magazine L'Express (equivalent of Time magazine), with a new perspective on the hidden side of John McTiernan's case is now totally translated for our english friends.
John McTiernan : Behind the case.
The Die Hard with a Vengeance and Thomas Crown Affair director, is going to be sent to prison on April 3rdfor perjury and lying to the FBI. A source close to the family relates the story of the case which ruined John McTiernan's career.
By Sandra Benedetti.
Snow is twirling down in gusts on Wyoming. In the outhouse of a ranch where cow boys were once running away from Sioux' arrows, a man with tormented wrinkles is writing the story of a bunch of flying firemen. He named it Warbirds. It is a script on which John McTiernan is working, with anxiety on his mind. Two weeks from now, on April 3rd, at exactly midnight, the director of Die Hard and The 13th Warrior will have to surrender to the authorities.
He has been sentenced to a year in prison, a $100 000 fine and 3 years probation for having lied on two occasions to the FBI and for committing perjury in front of a court of law. The conclusion of an old case which has ruined the career of this lone bear, at the polar opposite of the Hollywood noise, a kind of cinematic maverick turned outcast since 2006.
It all started in 2000 on the set of Rollerball. What should have been, in the mind of McTiernan, a modern Spartacus was turning into a nightmare. Thugs were extorting the crew, a fire of undetermined origin destroyed the set and the accountant, terrified, took off. The filmmaker and his producer, Charles Roven, both had their finger on the trigger. Roven didn't give a damn about Spartacus and wanted a simple "whiz-bang" action film, basically. McT suspected him of plotting a first class sabotage with the help of the MGM moguls.
Desperate, he hired a professional with whom he already dealt in 1998 during his divorce from Donna Dubrow : Anthony Pellicano. This tuxedo and shined shoes wearing, unsavoury character dresses like Al Capone, is the private detective that the City of Angels goes to when things go awry. A big shot, with links to the mafia. "When you are one of his friends, you are part of his family. If you're not, then you have a big problem" according to Sylvester Stallone.
Michael Jackson, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Courtney Love, Stevie Wonder, agents and film star lawyers, moguls and even Hillary Clinton are among his clients. He is nicknamed "the sin eater". He his a man of many specialties. Blackmail, threats, illegal wiretaps, spying, corruption and various falsifications. And all very 'hush hush ». On the phone, John McTiernan asked Pellicano to find out what Charles Roven and MGM were plotting regarding Rollerball.
No problem, that'll be $50 000, thanks, see you soon.
The film, butchered indeed in the editing room by Roven, came out in 2002 to disastrous reviews. This very same year, the FBI raided Anthony Pellicano's place. A Los Angeles journalist had pressed charges : she had found a dead fish, a red rose and the word "Stop" on the broken windshield of her Audi. In mafia parlance, this is a death threat. She was sniffing around in the life of two of Pellicano's clients and was sure that this was where the threat came from.
The cops quickly apprehended a small time crook, Alexander Proctor, who admitted to the felony and pointed the finger at the private detective. In the den of the sin eater, agents took possession of hard drives, computers, hand grenades, hand guns, explosives, assault weapons, CDs, thousand of pages of telephone conversation transcripts and gadgets worthy of James Bond. Arrested for illegal possession of military grade weaponry, Pellicano is sentenced to 30 months in prison. Just the time it will take the FBI to go through this mountain of evidence.
On February the 13th 2006, John McTiernan was having dinner in his Wyoming based ranch. A source close to the family tells that the director had came back the day before from a location scouting in Thailand and was suffering from typhoid fever and serious jet lag. In one account, one of the judges of the appeal court indicates that the scouting took place in Canada. Anyway. The phone rang and, feverish or not, exhausted or not, McT took the call. A guy saying he is from the FBI asked him questions about Pellicano and lawyer Dennis Wasser, which the director had previously hired during his divorce from Donna Dubrow. He wanted to know if McT had knowledge of the detective's illegal wire-tapping. The answer was no.
« Journalists often called pretending to be somebody else, a close member of the family remembers. John knew by experience that it was better to answer their questions in order to be left alone. At the end of the conversation, the man asked John if it had been the only time he hired Pellicano and John answered "Yes. I have to leave you and go back to my dinner". And that's where it ended".
FBI special agent Stanley Ornellas hung up and took notes. The gates of hell had just been opened. Merely a month later, the most powerful detective on the planet was standing again in front of a court of law. Among the hundred charges held against him : extortion, illegal wire-tapping and conspiracy to commit a crime. He faced 20 years in prison. "This trial has the potential of opening a rare window on the hidden face of hollywood", attorney Pierce O'Donnell declared. The whole of Tinseltown was shaking. The first big name to fall into the hands of justice was John McTiernan.
He will be the only one to suffer the consequence.
On March 4th, the government suggested to the director that he should hire a lawyer. When on March 16th, he was summoned to an interview with a government representative, McT brought his lawyer alongside him. The attorney mentioned agent Stanley Ornellas' phone call to McTiernan during which he denied knowledge of the illegal methods of the detective as well as having hired him after 1998. Then, he brought up transcripts of the illegal wire-tapping involving Charles Roven, and the recording, dated August 17th 2000, of a conversation between McT and the detective of the stars, which the federals said was found on one of the seized computers.
Instead of claiming, hand on his heart, that he knew nothing of Pellicano's actions as all the other celebrities would do afterwards, the filmmaker decided to plead guilty at the trial. His lawyer assured him that it was the only line of defense, based on the evidence presented. According to the New York Times, McT declared to the court: "Actually, I thought about hiring Pellicano to wiretap Charles Roven during the summer of 2000. I talked about it with him. I never got a report. After two weeks I paid him and I fired him. But I didn't mentioned it to the FBI agent on the phone." He had just set foot in hell for good. Lying to the FBI is a felony, punishable with a prison sentence of 5 years.
Since the beginning of the procedure, McT is on probation. Like every other accused in his situation. He has to give a weekly account of every single one of his activities to an agent, ask for permission if he wants to travel further than 100 miles from his home and obtain permission from a judge to leave the country as long as his case is pending.
Making a film under such conditions is impossible, since no insurance company will accept a project on which the director can be sent to prison and offered an orange jumpsuit at any given time. "Mister McTiernan is not above the law", so the accusers like to claim. The one who is not above the law is going round in circles in his ranch. Hollywood scorns him, for fear of being compromised.
In 2007, the sentence was given : 4 months in prison, 2 years of probation and a $100 000 fine. The filmmaker realised then that he had been duped by his lawyers, who had omitted to mention a few details on the consequences of a guilty plea. He fired them and hired two proud, stubborn, nasty, pugnacious lawyers. From there, sentences, trials, appeals, accusations and canceling requests would follow one another. Magistrates are full of resources, and so is the government.
Above all, there is judge Dale Susan Fischer. Cold eyed, short white fringe, toothy smile. The rumors say she is trying to make a name for herself by putting McT behind bars. When the lawyers mentioned the very serious state of depression of their client to try and soften the sentence, she answered: "He certainly won't be the only depressive in detention", as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
According to our source, Fischer is said to have refused for the jury to be informed of an error in procedure. FBI agents are supposed to introduce themselves in person, with a badge and I.D., in order to interrogate somebody. Besides, every person involved in the Pellicano case was contacted through his agent or lawyer by the Federal Bureau before being interviewed. Only McTiernan was approached on the phone.
As for the notorious transcripts of Charles Roven's illegal wiretapping, which L'Express had full access to, they only consist of brief summaries, without a single dialogue. "Simple messages on an answering machine", adds our informant. Those two pieces of information and the fact that a key witness retracted herself should annul the director's sentence, he reckons.
But that's supposing the judge accepts to take them into account. The hotshot lawyers, Todd Neal and Chuck Sevilla, won't back down, despite the tenacity of Dale Fischer. They did manage to get her permission concerning a medical follow up of McT in prison. "The medication that John has been taking for the last ten years is not recognized by the Board of Prisons. If the treatment is brutally stopped, he will suffer from very serious side effects", warns our source.
If they cannot quash the sentence, the defendants have insisted that their client is incarcerated in Yankton, South Dakota, the closest prison to the family and one of the least dangerous in the United States. In the meantime, the Bear Claw Ranch that McTiernan bought on credit 25 years ago is being sold to pay for the legal costs. The little tribe now lives in the keeper's house. There, the director reads Shakespeare to his children. From his windows, he sees the deer wandering about and the eagles flying around. Free as the wind. Free as he still is himself. Not for long.
Upon hearing of his fast approaching incarceration, French fans and journalists have created the page FREE JOHN McTIERNAN on Facebook. It has created quite a lot of turmoil since its creation a couple of weeks ago. Samuel L Jackson, Joe Carnahan, Brad Bird, Jan Kounen and a multitude of other film related names have joined the cause. Enough to give a bit of courage to John McTiernan, there, on the other side of the Atlantic.