Movie Director Sentenced for Lying About Detective
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 24 — A federal judge on Monday sentenced John McTiernan, the director of action movies including “Die Hard” and “Predator,” to four months in prison for lying to an F.B.I. agent about hiring the private investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap the producer of one of his films.
Mr. McTiernan, 56, became the first Hollywood figure to receive prison time because of dealings with Mr. Pellicano, who is awaiting trial on charges of masterminding a long-running wiretapping conspiracy on behalf of stars, studio executives and others in the entertainment industry.
According to prosecutors, Mr. McTiernan paid Mr. Pellicano $50,000 to wiretap Charles Roven, a producer of his box-office flop “Rollerball,” in August 2000. But he denied having done so when an F.B.I. agent called to ask him about it in February 2006.
Two months later, Mr. McTiernan pleaded guilty to a false-statement charge and offered his cooperation to federal prosecutors digging into Mr. Pellicano’s electronic-eavesdropping operation. But after prosecutors made clear that they thought he was not being truthful and would seek a prison sentence, he hired new lawyers and sought to withdraw his guilty plea and take his chances at trial.
A federal district judge, Dale S. Fischer, quickly rejected that attempt on Monday.
In a withering rebuke from the bench, Judge Fischer appeared to treat Mr. McTiernan more harshly because of his Hollywood career, calling him a “world-famous director” who arrogantly considered himself “above the law” and had shown no remorse.
“If anything, Mr. McTiernan’s privileged background is an aggravating factor,” she said, imposing a $100,000 fine in addition to the prison sentence. Mr. McTiernan has until Jan. 15 to surrender. His new lead lawyer, Milton Grimes, said Mr. McTiernan would appeal the ruling.
Mr. McTiernan was also ordered to surrender his passport. It was unclear what his sentence would mean for a movie he was preparing to film in Argentina, “Run,” about an Interpol agent who uncovers a conspiracy while pursuing a murder suspect.
The sentence was considered light compared with the many years Mr. Pellicano could face if convicted at his trial in February on racketeering and other charges. But it was severe given that federal prosecutors’ guidelines advise against charging people who merely deny their crimes without embellishing their denials with further lies.
In court on Monday, an assistant United States attorney, Daniel A. Saunders, asserted that Mr. McTiernan lied in insisting to prosecutors that Mr. Roven was the only person he had hired Mr. Pellicano to wiretap. Mr. Saunders expressed a belief that Mr. McTiernan had previously hired Mr. Pellicano to wiretap someone else, most likely his former wife, Donna Dubrow, during their 1997 divorce.
Mr. McTiernan, wearing brown cowboy boots and a blue blazer, did not speak when given the chance by the judge. His new lawyers argued that on the night he received the call from the F.B.I. agent, he was jet-lagged from a location-scouting trip to Thailand, had contracted typhoid and had stopped taking his antidepressant medication.
Asking for no prison time, the lawyers said that his Wyoming ranch, where he raises beefalo, a cross of cattle and bison, would suffer, and that his ranch hands could lose their jobs if he were absent for an extended time.
But Judge Fischer said she found their arguments “completely lacking in credibility.” Mr. McTiernan, she added, had taken two years to make the 1987 movie “Predator” and left Wyoming to work on other projects more recently, and yet the ranch had somehow managed to survive.
She also scolded Mr. McTiernan for saying in an e-mail message to his previous lawyer that he was “offended” at the idea he could be prosecuted because he had “refused to make movies in which F.B.I. agents are the bad guys,” and for complaining that his legal woes could get in the way of his making a “patriotic movie.”
The judge also noted that Mr. McTiernan had arranged to pay Mr. Pellicano by overpaying his own assistant by $50,000, thus involving another person in the wiretapping scheme “so it would not be traceable to him.”
Mr. Grimes, the new lawyer, said he was “gravely disappointed” by the sentence and took exception to the judge’s characterization of his client as someone who “lived a privileged life and simply wants to continue that.”
“He’s probably one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve met from Hollywood in my 30 years working here,” Mr. Grimes said.