The disclosure came during a 30-minute court hearing in downtown Los Angeles in which Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders also told attorneys for Pellicano and seven other defendants that the government would soon turn over evidence that includes thousands of pages of documents. Among them are FBI reports and copies of recordings seized by federal agents.
The prospect of additional defendants or new charges has loomed in recent weeks amid growing speculation — in legal and local law enforcement circles — that federal authorities have made a breakthrough in their investigation.
Attorneys and others involved in the case have said they believe that the FBI and federal prosecutors have uncovered significant new leads from evidence taken more than three years ago from Pellicano's Sunset Strip offices. It is not clear whether the evidence came from cooperating witnesses or from cracking codes used by Pellicano to conceal alleged illegal recordings in computers.
"I believe they are making progress" on decoding the encryption of tapes, said one defense attorney. "And anybody who has talked to Pellicano has to be a little concerned."
Another defense attorney close to the case told The Times this week that authorities recently shared detailed information about a conversation the attorney had five years ago with Pellicano — information that could have been known only through a tape recording or conversations with Pellicano.
"Pellicano called me to deliver a message to my client," said the attorney, who was then representing a businessman who had been lent a six-figure sum by a client of Pellicano. While the conversation was memorably contentious, the lawyer recalled, it had long since been forgotten.
"If the U.S. attorney knows that, he knows a lot," the attorney said, "because that conversation goes back five years . It was something that I had totally forgot."
At Wednesday's hearing, Saunders said the evidence to be turned over included several thousand pages of documents and "numerous" tapes that were contained in digital computer files. He also handed out a draft of a court order that would prevent the government or defense lawyers from discussing confidential information contained in the documents.
The next court hearing was scheduled for March 20.
As court records and recent interviews suggest, the government's investigation has turned up various forms of evidence, including recordings of conversations between Pellicano and his clients and summaries of alleged wiretaps conducted by the private investigator.
Pellicano and seven other defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges in the government's 112-count indictment.
Pellicano's attorney, Steven Gruel, told the court Wednesday that his client is "anxious" to move the case forward. Pellicano was charged just as he was about to be released from federal prison, where he was serving a 30-month sentence for possession of illegal explosives.
"He's been in custody for 2 1/2 years and thought he was finished paying his debt to society," said Gruel, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco.
Asked if his client is cooperating with authorities, Gruel said: "He's not talking to anybody, just me."
In other developments, new details have emerged regarding one of the alleged victims of the wiretaps, prominent Los Angeles real estate developer Robert Maguire.
Peggy Moretti, a spokeswoman for Maguire, said the developer met with FBI agents in February 2004 and was told he had been wiretapped in May 1997 in connection with his divorce.
Susan R. Maguire was represented in the divorce until June 1997 by Harvey R. Friedman of the Century City law firm Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman, Machtinger and Kinsella. The firm used Pellicano in at least six other cases that have drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators.
Susan Maguire did not return a phone call requesting an interview for this article. Attorney Brian Sun, who is representing the law firm, declined to comment. He has previously stated that neither the firm nor any of its attorneys had engaged in illegal activity.
Times staff writers Peter Hong and Roger Vincent contributed to this report.