Looking solemn and haggard and not at all the romantic digital outlaw, computer hacker Kevin Mitnick appeared in federal court Friday and waived his right to bail, receiving in return carefully monitored use of a telephone in jail.
"Yes, Your Honor," Mitnick, 31, replied glumly when asked by the judge if he understood the legal consequences of his actions. He also waived his right to a preliminary hearing of the evidence against him in connection with the variety of federal computer fraud charges he now faces.
His only comment to reporters who asked how he was doing was "fine." It was uttered in a flat, unmodulated voice. In court, the prisoner did not acknowledge the presence of Tsutomu Shimomura, the San Diego computer security expert who led the team that tracked Mitnick to Raleigh after his two years as a fugitive.
The former North Hills resident had been held in isolation at the Wake County Jail since a unique team of private computer security experts and FBI agents helped capture him early Wednesday morning, but he was released into the general jail population on Friday, according to his lawyer and federal authorities.
There were fresh indications that the manhunt that netted Mitnick is not over.
Julia Menapace, a member of the team that tracked Mitnick's actions via signals emitted by his cellular phone, said her team witnessed "a chat session between Mitnick and an Israeli friend." She said the two were exchanging proprietary information at the time.
A spokesman for the FBI refused to comment on whether they were now actively looking for that man.
"I'm not denying it," said James Walsh of the FBI's white-collar crime unit. "I won't comment."
U. S. District Judge Wallace Dixon gave Mitnick limited telephone privileges, allowing him to call his two attorneys, a federal public defender here and a private attorney in Los Angeles. Dixon also allowed calls to Mitnick's mother and grandmother, but ordered that those calls be dialed for him and supervised, out of concern that he could use his skills to harass his enemies, as he had in the past when he disconnected the telephones of law enforcement personnel and others.
Mitnick called his criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, John Yzurdiaga, and spoke briefly with him Friday about the case.
Yzurdiaga declined to comment on what was said, or how his celebrity client was feeling now that he has found himself in the middle of the media storm.
"They have a great concern of Kevin being around telephones, so his telephone use is restricted," Yzurdiaga said. "All of his conversations are monitored, so it was a very limited conversation."
Although he declined also to discuss the specifics of the case, Yzurdiaga said it is too early to condemn his client as a greedy computer hacker who cracked into government, corporate and university systems for financial gain.
"I don't believe there is any evidence to indicate that he in any way profited monetarily from his supposed intrusions into the nether-nether worlds of computerdom," Yzurdiaga said. "Kevin is a nice, sweet, I think considerate and thoughtful guy. Talk to the people who know him well and they will tell you that."
Mitnick's grandmother agreed. Reached at her Las Vegas home, Reba Vartanian said her grandson was never interested in using his remarkable computer prowess for his own gain.
"No one says he has ever done this for profit. He has never been accused of that," she said. "But I cannot say anything at this point without Kevin's or his lawyer's permission. I just don't think it would be right."
Vartanian said she and her daughter, who also lives in Las Vegas, were devastated by Mitnick's arrest. "I am too emotional to speak at this time," she said. "He is my grandson. My world begins and ends with him."
Assistant U. S. Atty. David Schindler in Los Angeles declined to comment on whether the government believes Mitnick personally profited from his alleged computer hacking activities. Mitnick faces new charges which are punishable by up to 35 years in prison, in addition to being wanted by California authorities.
"It is something we will be looking at," said Schindler, who heads a Los Angeles-based investigation into Mitnick's activities that he said has been under way for three years.
Authorities in at least three other jurisdictions also are investigating Mitnick.
Assistant U. S. Atty. John Bowler released a list of the property seized from the one-bedroom apartment at the Players Club complex where Mitnick had been staying since Feb. 4. It included a North Carolina driver's license in the name of Glenn Thomas Case, the alias he used in North Carolina. There was also a rental car slip in the name of M. David Stanfill.
Equipment confiscated included a pager, Oki cellular phones, five patch-type telephone lines, a map of Raleigh and a book about the 100 best companies to work for in America. There was also an AT & T speaker phone, a Realistic scanner and a Toshiba computer, apparently Mitnick's favorite brand. A similar computer was confiscated from a house outside Seattle that federal authorities raided just after Mitnick fled in October.
At a news conference following the hearing, Walsh was asked if the government is lagging behind the crooks in the area of computer fraud. "To some extent that's probably true," he said.
Bowler, the assistant U. S. attorney, said he was aware that Mitnick would like to return to California to face trial since all of his family and friends live on the West Coast. The prosecutor said no decision has been made yet on where Mitnick will be prosecuted first. Mitnick is also being investigated by authorities in Denver and Seattle.