Tamahori busted in LA sex sting

By Elizabeth Binning, Russell Baillie

New Zealand director Lee Tamahori has been arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly offering sexual services to an undercover police officer - while dressed in drag.

Tamahori, 55, who made it big in Hollywood after directing Once Were Warriors, is on bail after appearing in a Los Angeles court this week.

Prosecution spokesman Frank Mateljan said Tamahori was dressed in a black wig and off-the-shoulder dress when he approached anundercover police officer in Hollywood on January 8 and offered to perform sex for money.

Los Angeles police media spokesman Jason Lee told the Weekend Herald Tamahori had been charged with agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution and unlawfully loitering on Santa Monica Boulevard.

He said the charges were misdemeanours and at the "lower end" of the scale. The penalties were up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of US$5000.

If convicted, it is possible that as a foreign national Tamahori could lose his ability to work in the United States. Nobody at his gated home in Santa Monica responded to a request for comment by a Weekend Herald reporter last night.

Tamahori is being represented by celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, who could not be reached for comment. He has represented Michael Jackson on child-sex charges and actress Winona Ryder on shoplifting charges.

A regular commentator on talkback television, Mr Geragos was named "one of the 100 most influential attorneys in California" three years in a row by the California Law Business Magazine.

Actor Cliff Curtis, who worked with Tamahori in Once Were Warriors, saw the director last week but was not aware of the charges.

Curtis said Tamahori had a son, believed to be in his teens, and a girlfriend both in Los Angeles.

He was shocked to learn about the charges and was at a loss to explain what might have prompted Tamahori's actions. "I didn't know that he did those kinds of things. I just hope he's okay and his family and son are okay," Curtis said.

Tamahori has been involved in the film industry since the 1970s when he worked in advertising and at TVNZ. He went on to be a freelance boom operator and then first assistant director on many New Zealand films.

With this silver hair, angular features and sharp - mostly all-black - dress sense, Tamahori has long cut a striking figure in the New Zealand film industry.

After his success with Once Were Warriors, the Ngati Porou iwi member was in line to direct Whale Rider. But he turned it down, saying there were other stories from the East Coast he wanted to make.

Niki Caro eventually took it on.

Since being accepted in the US in the wake of Once Were Warriors, Tamahori has directed mostly standard Hollywood studio fare with mixed results. While he scored a hit with his 2002 Bond film Die Another Day, last year's thriller XXX2 brought him the worst reviews of his career.

The next film on his slate is sci-fi thriller Next starring Nicolas Cage as a man with an ability to see short distances into the future, based on a story by Philip K. Dick, who also inspired Blade Runner and Minority Report.

Tamahori holds shares in Shangri-La Apartments in Herne Bay and is a director of Auckland film company Flying Fish.

A woman who answered the phone at Flying Fish last night said, "We have no comment", before hanging up.

- Additional reporting: Russell Baillie

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