Subtlety was never Anthony Pellicano's trademark. A not-so-private investigator with a reputation for thuggery, he boasted of his ability to shred his foes' faces with a knife, kept a baseball bat in the boot of his car and cached grenades and military-grade explosives in his office safe. Born in Chicago, the former Mafia capital of America, and descended from Sicilian immigrants, he was said to have 'more mob connections than J. Edgar Hoover' and revelled in his status as a Hollywood tough guy and protector of celebrity secrets. 'Anthony is one of those people who is, shall we say, a lion at the gate,' OJ Simpson, fallen American football star and a former client of Pellicano, once said admiringly. 'He is not a man to be on the wrong side of.' Released from prison just days ago after serving 30 months for weapons offences, 61-year-old Pellicano - whose clientele once included Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Steven Seagal and Farrah Fawcett - is now back behind bars in a new case that is being billed as potentially 'Hollywood's biggest thriller of the year'. The trial, which has been scheduled for April, is expected to shine a light on Tinseltown's dark underside. It will expose studio executives, show-business lawyers, celebrity agents, telephone company insiders, computer hackers, corrupt police officers and perhaps even a few A-list stars to a hefty dose of embarrassment, if not some legal trouble of their own, in a plot that could have come straight from the big-screen. 'In terms of Hollywood corruption, this is the decade's version of LA Confidential,' said Professor Laurie Levenson, a legal expert at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. A flamboyant operator nicknamed 'the Big Sleazy', Pellicano was the man to whom members of the entertainment elite turned when they were in trouble, commissioning his services in order to dish the dirt on detractors who launched lawsuits against them, or to spy on their enemies, business rivals and each other. But his tactics often pushed legal and ethical boundaries, including a notable incident in 2002 when he was charged with threatening Anita Busch, a Los Angeles Times reporter, in an attempt to scare her into dropping a story on a suspected Mafia extortion plot involving actor Steven Seagal. Busch found a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on her car, alongside a bullet-hole in the glass and a sign reading 'stop'. The case led to a years-long probe in which detectives seized two billion pages of text from Pellicano's computers. Last week, Los Angeles prosecutors issued a 60-page, 110-count indictment that accuses him of illegal wiretapping and obtaining confidential FBI records. Charged with him are two police officers who, it is alleged, accepted six-figure backhanders from Pellicano to look up 'confidential, embarrassing or incriminating' information on their computers to assist his undercover investigations into Hollywood figures. He also created illegal eavesdropping software, known as Telesleuth, to listen in on targets and to access the FBI's National Crime Information Centre database. Members of the entertainment industry were both his clients and his targets. The indictment also charged Robert Pfeifer, former president of Hollywood Records, with wiretapping, while naming actors Sylvester Stallone and Keith Carradine, comedian Garry Shandling, and executives at Creative Artists Agency - the most powerful talent agency in America - among his victims. Federal prosecutors want to know just how much his clients knew about the dirty tactics Pellicano used to carry out his undercover assignments. They say that the information he gathered was used for threats, blackmail and in some cases to secure 'tactical advantage in litigation' on behalf of his clients. The case makes nail-biting reading for anyone who has used Pellicano's services. Michael Jackson employed him to turn up information that helped to discredit child-sex accusers. In the 1990s, Bill and Hillary Clinton and their so-called 'Bimbo Eruption Swat Team' reportedly retained his services to undermine the credibility of presidential mistresses Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky. Also among his leading clients were Paramount Pictures chairman Brad Grey, Universal Studios president Ron Meyer, and Bertram Fields, a prominent attorney who has acted on behalf of stars including Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise in delicate matters pertaining to their private lives. 'For Pellicano, it's just a question of whether he'll spend the rest of his life in jail - he's charged with crimes that at the maximum could land him 500 years in jail,' said Professor Levenson. 'But now it's no longer just about him - it's more about the people that hired him and whether they knew the tactics he was using. For a lot of people it's uncomfortable, to say the least. Even if they aren't criminally charged, it's not good for their reputation. People are nervous.'