MGM Mirage Board Member Indicted in Wiretap Scheme - Saturday 18th of February 2006
By Howard Stutz
Las Vegas Gaming Wire
NEVADA A longtime board member of MGM Mirage who is a personal attorney and 35-year confidant of the casino company's primary stockholder, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, was indicted Wednesday in Los Angeles for his alleged role in an illegal wiretapping scheme involving Hollywood celebrities and executives that already has ensnared nine others.
Terry Christensen, 65, of Beverly Hills, was charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of intercepting wire communications. If convicted of both counts, Christensen could face up to 10 years in federal prison.
Christensen has been a member of the MGM Mirage board of directors since Aug. 1, 1987.
Many MGM Mirage executives and board members were out of the country late Wednesday and were unavailable to comment on the indictment.
Kerkorian issued a one-sentence statement Wednesday through Tracinda Corp., his wholly owned company: "Terry Christensen is a paragon of integrity who has always done the right thing throughout the 35 years I have had the privilege of knowing him."
Nevada gaming regulators were made aware of the situation Wednesday by MGM Mirage attorneys, Control Board Chairman Dennis Neilander said. But regulators aren't planning to take any action now because state gaming regulations don't require a board member who is charged with a crime to be removed from that office. As a board member, Christensen is a licensed individual, Neilander said.
"Typically, it will be up to MGM Mirage," Neilander said late Wednesday. "The company will make an assessment of the facts and make a preliminary judgment. Because it's a criminal matter, we'll follow the situation closely. At this point, he's not been found guilty of anything, but it is a matter we'll watch."
It was unclear Wednesday how the situation might be viewed in other gaming jurisdictions, though. MGM Mirage operates casinos in Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan and is a 50 percent partner with Boyd Gaming Corp. in the Borgata in Atlantic City.
According to Christensen's biography on the Web site of his Los Angeles-based law firm, Christensen served as president of Tracinda in 1987. While at Tracinda, the company entered into such transactions as the formation of MGM Grand Air and the planning and formation of MGM Grand Inc., the predecessor to MGM Mirage.
Christensen is the managing partner of Los Angeles-based Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro, with a client list that includes the city of Los Angeles, Paramount Pictures, Sony Entertainment, Majestic Realty and The Walt Disney Co., in addition to MGM Mirage and Kerkorian.
In Wednesday's indictment, prosecutors allege Christensen conspired with private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap the phones of Kerkorian's former wife, Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, who was involved in a court battle against an unnamed Christensen client.
Christensen allegedly paid Pellicano at least $100,000 for the illegal wiretap, court documents show.
Christensen "would use the information gleaned from the illegal wiretap to secure a tactical advantage in litigation by learning Lisa Bonder Kerkorian's plans, strategies, perceived strengths and weaknesses ... and other confidential information," according to the indictment.
Christensen's lawyers, Terree Bowers and Jan Handzlik, in a prepared statement issued Wednesday said they are convinced that the allegations are unfounded and that their client will be cleared.
"Terry did not contact Pellicano, never hired him to wiretap anyone and had not even previously used Pellicano's services," the lawyers wrote. "It was Pellicano who placed an unsolicited call to Terry nearly four years ago offering information about alleged extortionate demands and death threats being made against a young child and one of Terry's closest and longest friends."
A previous indictment, unsealed last week, said information gathered by Pellicano and associates was used for threats, blackmail and in some cases to tilt litigation. Federal investigators haven't named other Pellicano clients or disclosed whether they might have known about his methods.
However, the court documents revealed that the phones of actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine were tapped. In addition, the names of more than 60 people, including comedians Garry Shandling and Kevin Nealon, were run through police and government databases, the indictment said.
Six people, including Pellicano, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges in connection with the wiretapping scandal. Two people have pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
Legal experts say the wiretapping scandal could unlock some of Hollywood's shady dealings and implicate some of the industry's power players.
Christensen represented Kerkorian in a high-profile securities lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler AG. Kerkorian sued the automaker in 2000 for more than $1 billion, claiming DaimlerBenz engineered a takeover of Chrysler Corp. in 1998, then cheated him out of an acquisition fee by claiming that it was a merger of equals. Tracinda was Chrysler's largest shareholder at the time.
A federal judge ruled against Kerkorian in 2004 after a 13-day bench trial.
In 2002, Christensen represented entertainment producer Steven Bing in a 2002 dispute with Kerkorian for alleged invasion of privacy and trespassing. The lawsuit, which was amicably resolved, sought more than $1 billion from Kerkorian, who allegedly was behind an effort to determine through DNA tests whether Bing had fathered Bonder Kerkorian's daughter.
Christensen later said DNA tests proved that Bing was the girl's biological father.
Kerkorian had a decade-long romantic relationship with Bonder Kerkorian, a former tennis pro, but they were married for only a month in 1999. Bonder Kerkorian had been seeking more money to support her daughter, Kira, but admitted during a 2002 court battle that she faked the DNA paternity test by using saliva she obtained from Kerkorian's adult daughter.
According to the MarketWatch.com Web site, Christensen had options on 9,500 shares of stock in MGM Mirage, valued at $358,815 as of Tuesday.
Christensen also serves on the board of directors of two other publicly traded companies, Checkers Drive-In Restaurants and Fidelity National Financial.
In a 1989 interview with BusinessWeek, he credited his relationship with Kerkorian for much of his legal and professional success.
Christensen first became affiliated with Kerkorian in the early 1970s when he was a partner in a Los Angeles-based securities litigation firm.
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