Hollywood private detective Anthony Pellicano, who has represented some of the biggest stars in show business, faces possible indictment on charges of widespread illegal wiretapping and witness intimidation, backed by threats and occasional violence, a federal prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
What began as an investigation into a threat against a Los Angeles Times reporter has grown into a large-scale probe involving other potential victims, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Saunders.
Saunders said FBI agents have obtained the names of a number of people, including some lawyers, who hired Pellicano to conduct illicit wiretaps or secure the silence of potential witnesses.
He said the FBI has also identified the computer software Pellicano allegedly used to tap into telephones, his contact at the telephone company and a corrupt law enforcement officer who assisted him.
Saunders made the disclosures during an unsuccessful prosecution attempt to revoke Pellicano's $400,000 bail on an unrelated charge of possessing explosives. U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian said he wanted to see sworn affidavits from some of the government's witnesses before deciding whether to revoke Pellicano's bond.
Pellicano's defense attorney, Donald Re, responded angrily to Saunder's allegations, calling them baseless and "around the bend." He accused the government of waging a vendetta against his client.
"Make them prove these allegations," Re told the judge, "because they can't."
Saunders cited the case of an unidentified Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who discovered a tap on her telephone while prosecuting one of Pellicano's clients.
The federal prosecutor conceded there was no direct evidence linking Pellicano to the wiretapping, but he argued that the coincidence was hard to ignore, given that the current investigation had uncovered similar occurrences in other cases in which Pellicano was hired.
Last month, Saunders said, Pellicano telephoned the father of a former key employee, telling him, "Somebody has been talking to the FBI about me. I think it's your daughter. What a shame, what a pity."
The man immediately telephoned his daughter, who was so frightened that she left the state, according to Saunders.
But Re told the judge that his own private investigator had recently interviewed the father, who emphatically denied taking Pellicano's remarks as a threat. Re also produced a copy of a letter the daughter sent to Pellicano after his arrest last November, expressing her family's support and affection and promising any help he might need.
"To me it doesn't seem like a real threat," the judge said. He said he could not base any decision on the filtered accounts of either side's investigators. "I want to see statements from the percipient witnesses signed under penalty of perjury," Tevrizian told the lawyers. Saunders said he would provide those statements as soon as possible.
The unfolding case against Pellicano is an outgrowth of an FBI-LAPD investigation into a threat last June against Times reporter Anita Busch, who had been writing about actor Steven Seagal's relationship with a reputed Mafia associate.
Another man, Alexander Proctor, was arrested in connection with the threat. Proctor allegedly told a government informant that Pellicano paid him to carry out the threat on behalf of Seagal. Pellicano and Seagal have denied any involvement in the threat.
While searching Pellicano's Sunset Boulevard office in connection with that case, investigators recovered two live grenades and a quantity of plastic explosives in a locked safe. The private detective was subsequently indicted on charges of illegally possessing explosives. His trial on those charges is set for next month.