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Client says she listened to wiretaps

Times Staff Writer

The ex-wife of prominent Los Angeles developer Robert Maguire testified Thursday that she paid former private eye Anthony Pellicano nearly $1 million to locate her estranged husband’s assets during a divorce and heard numerous wiretapped recordings of Maguire’s conversations with his psychiatrist, onetime mistress, world-famous architect Frank Gehry and others.

The account by Susan Maguire represented the first time in the two-week-old trial that a former Pellicano client had acknowledged listening to the alleged wiretaps, which federal authorities contend were a key part of the private detective’s lucrative business.

Maguire’s testimony overshadowed the long-anticipated appearance of Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey, who was among Pellicano’s most famous former clients. Grey said he had no knowledge of any illegal activity by the onetime investigator.

The 63-year-old Pellicano and four co-defendants are charged in a 110-count indictment that alleges wiretapping, conspiracy, racketeering and other federal charges.

Susan Maguire, a government witness who testified under a grant of immunity, said Pellicano was brought into her case in 1996 by attorneys from the Century City law firm of Greenburg Glusker, one of Pellicano’s most reliable clients over the years.

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She testified that Pellicano quickly determined that the wealthy developer -- who helped create Los Angeles’ downtown skyline -- had plenty of hidden assets, including aircraft at Van Nuys Airport and a Pasadena home he allegedly bought for his mistress through a friend who is also a major real estate developer.

Pleased with Pellicano’s work, Maguire said, she continued to pay him to investigate her estranged husband. In March 1997, she said, she gave Pellicano $200,000, which he requested as “a loan.” The loan, she said, was never repaid. She also said she gave him diamond earrings worth $100,000. At other times, she said, Pellicano requested that she give him checks, each in the amount of $9,500. She said he told her that amount would not “cause alarm” at banks because it was less than $10,000.

Over time, Maguire said, Pellicano became increasingly comfortable showing her the fruits of his labor, allowing her to look at phone numbers he had stored on his computer and a DMV photo of her husband’s then-girlfriend.

In May 1997, she said, Pellicano called her at home and told her to go to a nearby pay phone so he could share information he had uncovered.

“He was very excited. . . . He said he had set up something and would be getting a lot of information [for her case],” Maguire recalled.

Later, at Pellicano’s Sunset Strip offices, Maguire said, the private eye took her into a lab room with computers and had her put on headphones. It was then, she testified, that she heard a recording of her ex-husband “in great distress” talking to his psychiatrist by phone.

Though Pellicano was thrilled with the recording, Maguire said, she was troubled.

“I didn’t want to listen,” she told the jury. “It was awful. It was very upsetting to me.”

Maguire said she asked Pellicano and his then-assistant: “ ‘Is this legal?’ ”

“What was his response?” Assistant U.S. Atty. Kevin Lally asked.

“He said, ‘yes,’ ” Maguire recalled.

But a moment later, she said, Pellicano and his assistant “began laughing.”

In all, Maguire estimated, she visited Pellicano’s offices about 10 times to listen to recordings because “he told me I had to listen to tapes to identify people.” She said one of the conversations was with Gehry, her husband’s longtime friend.

Though troubled by his methods, Maguire said, she never challenged Pellicano because his alleged activities were producing results and because he had warned her not to divulge his secrets to anyone. “He was a threatening kind of person,” Maguire said.

During his brief cross-examination of his former client, Pellicano, serving as his own attorney, seemed more interested in confirming that Susan Maguire was pleased with the results of his work than in disputing her account.

“Was Mr. Pellicano loyal to you?” Pellicano asked Maguire.

“Yes,” she said.

“He’s still loyal to you,” Pellicano said, walking back to his chair at the defense table.

Maguire’s testimony upstaged Grey’s. During his almost 30 minutes on the witness stand, Grey said he was unaware of any illegal activity conducted on his behalf by Pellicano, who worked for Grey’s former company on two high-profile lawsuits. Grey also said the decision to hire the private eye was made by Greenburg Glusker, the law firm hired by Grey’s former entertainment management company, and the law firm’s well-known litigator, Bert Fields.

The law firm and Fields, Grey said, were hired to defend against lawsuits filed by comedian Garry Shandling and writer-producer Bo Zenga. In both cases, Grey said, Pellicano was paid $25,000 for his investigative services. And although Grey said he fully endorsed the selection of Pellicano, he said he was never made aware of Pellicano’s day-to-day findings or his investigative methods.

Grey said he understood that Fields had hired Pellicano “many times” and felt “very comfortable with him.” Grey said he also spoke to Pellicano “from time to time” and found him to be “very professional.”

During a brief cross-examination by defense attorney Chad Hummel, Grey said he was not aware of any information that Pellicano used wiretaps or accessed confidential records at the Los Angeles Police Department to locate investigative targets and potentially incriminating or embarrassing information.

“You saw nothing that indicated to you that Mr. Pellicano was doing anything illegal?” Hummel asked Grey.

“That’s correct,” Grey said.

The studio executive paused momentarily, and then added that he did not recall a specific conversation with Fields about any of Pellicano’s tactics that might have broken the law.

“It just never came up,” Grey said.

But in follow-up questioning by Lally, Grey acknowledged that he was not kept abreast of the investigator’s work on the cases.

Earlier in the trial, authorities had elicited testimony from several witnesses, including Shandling, his former girlfriend and other individuals, who said their phones were tapped or their confidential records accessed during business or legal disputes with Pellicano’s clients.

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greg.krikorian@latimes.com


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