That click -- is someone else on the line?

Times Staff Writer

On the telephone, the man and the woman plot to keep her husband from discovering their illicit romance. Only hours before, they had rendezvoused at a villa at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Who was the man they saw lurking outside? Her mind races:

Worst case, he had someone following me. So I went to a hotel -- big deal.

But it had to be her husband's doing, the man on the phone says:

Gotta be honest with you. Nobody else would follow you.

Still, their relationship was their secret, the woman insists:

This is the bottom line, Tommy. No one was in the room. No one knows what's going on.

These words, from a wiretap presented at private eye Anthony Pellicano's recently concluded trial, rang out eerily in a hushed courtroom -- the portal, ironically, to everyone knowing.

Lisa Gores was captured on that tape talking to her then-husband's brother, Tom Gores. Pellicano had wiretapped Lisa for her former husband, billionaire businessman Alec Gores.

With that wiretap evidence, and other secret recordings Pellicano made of his own phone conversations, federal prosecutors on May 15 won guilty verdicts against the private eye to the stars, effectively changing his handle to convicted wiretapper and racketeer.

But the Pellicano trial also opened a window onto a rarefied and creepy world in which that click on the line really did mean someone was listening.

In an age when people have moved on to worrying about identity theft, intrusions into medical files and how much those body imaging airport scanners really show, the trial brought back classic, movie-thriller paranoia: Am I being bugged?

Even with Pellicano convicted and his detective agency defunct, fear of the phone persists among those who know firsthand what it is like to be wiretapped.

"That kind of invasion really sticks with you," said movie and TV actor Keith Carradine -- over a phone -- from Iowa, where he is shooting the movie "Peacock."

Carradine's ex-wife, Sandra, pleaded guilty to lying about hiring Pellicano to snoop on her ex-husband amid a bitter 2001 child support dispute.

Pellicano tapped the phone line in the Airstream trailer where Carradine was living.

He also intimidated and harassed the actor's then-girlfriend, now wife, Hayley DuMond, and her family, Carradine said. Carradine and DuMond, also an actor, have a home in the San Fernando Valley now. "We have hard lines, but I don't trust them," Carradine said. "I don't have any kind of a serious business or personal conversation without thinking twice about what I'm saying."

He feels no safer with a cell phone. "No way!" he said, chuckling.

"Every time I pick up the phone I think about it. It's like a scar. It's not going to heal," said DuMond, 33. "Sometimes we'll make jokes like, 'Wow, they're getting an earful.' "

DuMond says she can't shake the idea that Pellicano could still be plotting.

"He's in jail right now. I think, 'Who's he talking to?' Maybe that's paranoid. But when you think of his connections. . . . Because she [Sandra Carradine] made an incredibly poor judgment, this man is in our lives."

Carradine, 58, is suing his ex-wife. He is also suing the phone company -- AT&T;, formerly SBC --whose retired field technician, Ray Turner, was found guilty at the trial of wiretapping and racketeering.

"I want accountability. That's all I'm after," said Carradine. "The fact that the system was set up in such a way that a rogue employee could do this shows there are some serious flaws in the system."

Pellicano's method of bugging didn't look like anything out of a movie: no vans sitting outside houses, no people sneaking into homes and planting devices on phones, according to government witnesses.

Instead, Pellicano relied on proprietary phone company information about the location of people's phone cables.

He then had the phone signals branched from those cables to a phone line running into his office. (In at least one case, the line was branched to an apartment he had apparently rented for monitoring wiretaps.)

It was like setting up "an unknown extension," the federal prosecutor said in court.

Few think wiretaps are common in the P.I. world. "I don't think this is occurring on a widespread basis like anything we've seen here," said Brian Kabateck, the attorney who represents Carradine in suits against AT&T; and against Pellicano.

Kabateck has also filed a class-action suit against the phone company on behalf of those wiretapped or recorded while talking to someone else who was wiretapped.

"We contend each victim is entitled to $5,000 to $10,000 per incident of being wiretapped. . . . It could be as much as $100 million."

AT&T; spokesman H.Gordon Diamond said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The mere fact that wiretapping is illegal makes it ineffectual, observers said.

"Much of what Pellicano did was useless," said private eye John Nazarian, who attended the Pellicano trial and blogged about it.

"How do you raise that information in court? You can certainly use it to intimidate. In the course of a real case, I get paid to find something helpful to the defense. . . . Many lawyers call me and say, 'I need you to find something out for me -- and I need you to do it legally.' That's been the new mantra for the last few years -- 'legally.' "

But much of the time, Pellicano's wiretapped information was supplied to people who just wanted to find out something. And find it they did.

Alec Gores had hired Pellicano to see if his wife was cheating on him. The 2001 wiretap of Lisa Gores telling her hotel companion "no one knows what's going on" was the proof Alec wanted.

And, of course, Pellicano also used his wiretaps to intimidate. Erin Finn had incurred the wrath of a former boyfriend, onetime music executive Robert Pfeifer, by testifying about his drug use in a lawsuit.

To get her to recant, Pellicano in 2000 wiretapped Finn, harassed her with phone calls and had her followed. She eventually changed her testimony.

"It does sound like a bad movie when I think back on it," said Finn, 37, a marketing consultant who now lives in central Florida. "I was living in a bad movie."

A former Pellicano employee testified that she listened to a wiretap of Finn voicing aloud her fear that she was being bugged.

"I don't know if it was intuition or that several times I heard a click," said Finn. It didn't help that Pellicano was calling her and alluding to private things in her life -- or that she was getting anonymous e-mails with similarly private information.

A remorseful Pfeifer, who has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting wiretapping, testified at trial that Pellicano had boasted, "Finn won't be able to use a roll of toilet paper without me knowing."

At the trial, Finn not only talked about the harassment, but about expensive escort services she offered starting in 1999 to "the awkward geek."

"Everyone has things they regret doing in their lives," she said during a phone interview after the verdict. She became emotional as she described how public her past life had become. Her escort service ended more than five years ago, she testified.

"Normally they're not brought up in court -- especially if you're the victim." But she said she realized her testimony was necessary "to help put these guys behind bars."

Since the trial, she said, "I don't sleep very well. I just went to a sleep doctor today." When AT&T; became her carrier, she canceled her land lines in Florida. "I decided to get rid of the phone lines altogether," she said. "AT&T; was just a reminder of it being the company of the employees who wiretapped me." Finn, who is also represented by Kabateck, is suing AT&T.;

In Pellicano's world, secret taping and wiretapping were so much the norm that his clients worried that maybe they were being spied on too. "I thought anything was possible," testified hedge fund manager Adam Sender, who hired Pellicano in 2001 to recover a lost investment.

There was no evidence that Sender was wiretapped. But like so many of Pellicano's clients, his phone conversations with the private eye were secretly recorded, which is also illegal.

Some clients took his wiretapping prowess so much for granted that Pellicano had to dampen their expectations of James Bond-like results.

Pellicano wiretapped producer Charles Roven on behalf of John McTiernan in a dispute over film profits. During the job, the private detective complained -- in a 2000 taped phone conversation -- about having to listen to a huge volume of calls to get useful information.

"You can't have the thing on there listening for particular words or names?" asks McTiernan.

"Nah, nah, nah," says Pellicano. "That's in the movies."

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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