Los Angeles police did not need any fancy computer program the time they turned the tables on private investigator Anthony Pellicano and secretly taped him in one of their own station houses.
Pellicano had requested a meeting with the police detectives investigating his client — accused “limousine rapist” John Gordon Jones — so they told him to come to the Hollywood station at 1 p.m. on Dec. 9, 1998.
That’s when police led Pellicano into an interview cubicle where a hidden microphone was connected to an old-fashioned cassette recorder in another room, nothing like the “Telesleuth” system Pellicano is accused of using to wiretap people all over town.
But however primitive the technology, the tape of the police station encounter provides a rare opportunity to hear the now-imprisoned Pellicano in action.
He can be heard boasting of his celebrity clientele and the money he earns, prodding the detectives for information — even as he insists he isn’t — and covering his rear after a break-in was reported at the apartment of a witness against his client.
“It wasn’t me,” Pellicano says. “Anybody who does anything illegal, get ‘em.”
It’s one of several comments that resonate with different meaning in 2006, as Pellicano remains held without bail while an investigation into his activities shakes Los Angeles’ entertainment and legal establishments.
Pellicano’s work on the Jones case is the basis for eight of the 110 counts of a federal racketeering indictment accusing him of bribing police and wiretapping to dig up dirt on people that he was investigating. Those eight counts allege that he had a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant on his payroll run background checks on women who accused the millionaire barhopper of slipping them date-rape drugs.
In fact, two of the women, still listed as Jane Does, are atop the long list of names that Pellicano allegedly ran through police databases — they’re the earliest such crimes cited by federal authorities.
The case involving Jones — who was eventually acquitted — is also an early instance of allegations of illegal eavesdropping by Pellicano. Here, they spilled out in court years before he came under official investigation. If what he was doing was a secret, it was badly kept.
Voluminous records from court proceedings also highlight a dilemma that Pellicano seems to have faced in the wide variety of divorce and Hollywood cases in which he is alleged to have made wiretaps: How do you use the powerful evidence such snooping generates without giving away what you are doing?
This episode from the seamy edge of Los Angeles nightlife also shows Pellicano in action, whether trying to neutralize witnesses against his wealthy client or schmoozing with the prosecution team seeking to send the man to prison for life.
Pellicano apparently did not suspect that he was being recorded in the police station that afternoon in 1998, for he said things he would not have wanted shared with the world, such as cursing out his own client.The encounter was disclosed, however, when the government had to turn over the 32-minute tape to lawyers for Jones during the discovery process leading up to his trial. The Times also obtained a copy, portions of which can be heard at latimes.com/tapes.There’s much on the tape that sounded like harmless banter at the time but which invites a second listen today, such as Pellicano’s touting his law enforcement contacts (“I got a lot of friends on the job”) or telling the police, “I have a lot more information than you think I do.”
Even what sounds like a friendly quip to the sex crimes prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karla Kerlin — “You behaving yourself, by the way?” — could be seen as not so harmless after documents surfaced in subsequent litigation suggesting that Pellicano may have been digging into her background too.
Seven years later, Kerlin still finds it hard to believe that anyone might have thought of intimidating her with a tidbit from her past, her stint as a showgirl in Las Vegas.
Allegations of AbuseJones’ mother owned Arthur Murray dance studios, and John Gordon Jones began working as an instructor as a teenager, in disco and ballroom.
“I learned the mastery of selling,” he says, “teaching dancing.”
Jones made his fortune through telemarketing, presiding over phone banks that sold office supplies and printer cartridges by the millions. By 1998, at 44, he had a Bentley, a Ferrari Testarossa and the stretch limo that inspired the nickname he understandably despised.
Jones met Jane Doe No. 1 that Oct. 11 in the VIP room at the Garden of Eden, a nightclub that describes itself as “a sanctuary where beautiful people eat, drink, dance and honor the legendary history that is Hollywood.”
The 25-year-old woman, who had moved from North Carolina months earlier, told police that Jones bought her a Tom Collins and “the next memory she had was waking up in a bedroom, lying naked on a bed, with an unknown unclothed female,” according to an arrest warrant. Part of her body had been shaved.
Authorities eventually alleged that she had been taken to Jones’ Benedict Canyon home in the limo and that the other woman was Jones’ friend Pina Colapinto, who had a bit part in a 1997 David Schwimmer film “Breast Men.” A team of officers and the prosecutor, Kerlin, arrived at Jones’ home at 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 29 and arrested him on suspicion of kidnapping for the purpose of rape. Jones admitted having had sex with Jane Doe No. 1 but said it was consensual and that she had taken a drug herself, Ecstasy, not any date-rape depressant. They also shared “two bumps” of cocaine, he said.
The searchers found no date-rape drugs at his home that morning but did discover $800,000 and three other women, including a 21-year-old actress they classified as Jane Doe No. 2. She told police that she felt “robotic” after Jones bought her two drinks, though Jones’ lawyers said she hardly had the demeanor of a victim, that she was “making coffee and reading the newspaper.”
It was not an easy case to make, and no charges had been filed five weeks later, when Pellicano came to the Hollywood station to meet with three detectives. Jones said he had hired the private eye at the suggestion of a lawyer, who said Pellicano “had a heavy-duty reputation.” Pellicano himself said “he never loses,” Jones recalled, and demanded a heavy-duty fee, $50,000 a month, half in cash.
But the police knew Pellicano’s reputation too, and that’s why they asked the prosecutor to sit in.
“There’s a lot of folklore and stuff that goes with Pellicano,” Kerlin said.
That’s why the detectives wondered whether he might be behind the break-in at the Santa Monica apartment of Jane Doe No. 1, who told police that “someone had gone through files and photo albums.”
Police logs subsequently recorded another woman’s complaint that Pellicano had threatened “to make trouble” for her boyfriend, “because he had two outstanding traffic warrants.”
Det. Tim Marcia said they decided to activate the Hollywood station’s hidden recording system — legal for police — because “we were informed that Mr. Pellicano had the habit of taping interviews . We did this to protect ourselves.”
Much later, the suspect, Jones, was furious when he heard the recording of his own investigator with the police and the prosecutor, telling them, “If this guy is, as he has claimed to have been doing, serial raping women, get the [expletive]. Get him. I know, if it was my daughter, I’d rip his [expletive] heart out of his chest.”
But Pellicano may simply have been playing to them, as when he said he often defended policemen who were in trouble, prompting one of the detectives to ask, “You have a card?” giving them all a good laugh.
It was a verbal poker game, everyone trying to read the other guy and conceal their own cards, except Pellicano was playing one against four. He tried sidling up to them again by agreeing that Jane Doe No. 1 perhaps was a devout Southern girl, but well, those roommates of hers were another matter. Later, defense papers would characterize them as “porno movie stars, connected to Playboy.”
He came on like the cynical cop, saying that he started out believing that Jones was “dead bang [expletive] guilty” but now, “I’m way over here as far as this guy being innocent.”
“I want you to know that I’m involved,” he told the detectives, explaining why he asked for the meeting. But he also appeared to have tangible goals: to deny that he was the one who broke into Jane Doe No. 1’s apartment, to see if the police would reveal whether tests found “any substance in her body” and to see if he could get a copy of Jones’ phone book, which they had seized.
When they wouldn’t give it to him, he did say, “I guess I’m going to fight you,” but his tone was matter-of-fact — he wasn’t going to wave the bat on their turf.
“Listen, I’m a very pro law enforcement person,” Pellicano said, inspiring supervising Det. Denise Montgomery to retort, “How come you’re not a cop?”
“Because I like making money,” he answered, his turn at a laugh line.
As for the defense in the case, Pellicano made it clear who was “the brains behind this” — and it wasn’t the lawyers. He indicated that his client was a challenge too: “The guy still goes out with a ton of women to all these bars.” Pellicano went on, “Listen, I have all kinds of celebrity clients. If I told you some stories I mean utterly stupid [expletive]. I said, ‘You know, because you have a lot of money you can’t go around acting this way . ‘
“I tell everybody this ‘If you did it, they’re going to get you.’ ”
Pellicano was right that Jones’ continuing nights on the town were a bad idea. They caught up with him after the district attorney’s office finally filed charges on Dec. 23, 1998, for his alleged abuse of Jane Does No. 1 and No. 2. Defense attorneys later complained that the prosecutor was issuing “an invitation” for more women to line up against the wealthy defendant.
One who surfaced was Jane Doe No. 3, who told police that she recognized the mug shot on TV as the man who had victimized her recently, in November. According to court records, she said she met Jones at Dan Tana’s restaurant while she was completing an interior design course, and he suggested she might decorate a mansion he had bought.
But when they got together, he opened a bottle of wine and kept insisting they toast, “cheers for this, cheers for that,” and she then blacked out and woke up in bed with him raping her, she told a grand jury.
She soon after concluded, “Oh my God! I was drugged!”
Jones Lands in JailJane Doe No. 3’s account gave authorities more than another charge to put in what became a nine-victim indictment — it gave them grounds to have a judge send Jones to jail without bail. He had allegedly raped her while on bail from his original arrest. How could he remain free?
That’s how Jones came to be confined to the County Jail for two years while he awaited trial, and how his defense team came to face a crisis: how to use the potentially explosive evidence generated by their private eye.
Years later, when the FBI began looking into Pellicano, he was accused of wiretapping mainly to give clients an edge in divorce cases or entertainment disputes in which money was at stake. Here a man’s liberty was on the line, and if one internal defense document was accurate, Jones should not have been jailed.
Defense attorneys said they never were sure exactly how Pellicano did it, but that he came up with the crucial evidence by monitoring the phone of Jones, their client, without Jones’ knowledge or theirs.
The 15-page “Overview of Telephone Records,” eventually filed in the Superior Court case, told a story far different than the drugging and rape that Jane Doe No. 3 described. The fledgling decorator is quoted as bantering with Jones after he says, “You’re my girlfriend.”
“You only love Gordy,” she says.
“I only love Gordy.”
“I’m famished,” she says.
The next day, her 23 calls from Jones’ house included one to her young son describing Jones’ “huge parrot.” In another, she is quoted telling her mother, “He’s nice, he’s fun.”
They apparently had an unpleasant last evening together, however, when he met two other women at Chasen’s and invited them to follow their car, this time the Ferrari, to the house.
“You embarrassed me the other night,” Jane Doe No. 3 is quoted as telling Jones in a subsequent call. “I need to start over again as a professional to do my job.”
One of a string of defense lawyers in the case, Danny Davis, said he wrote the document based on recordings made by Pellicano. Davis said that when he heard there might be exculpatory recordings, he had to lobby to hear them even once in Pellicano’s office, “scribbling notes as quickly as I could.”
These days, prominent Los Angeles divorce and entertainment lawyers who used Pellicano are denying that he ever shared such recordings with them. But in the Jones case, Davis and an earlier lawyer, Ronald Richards, acknowledged hearing them, and disagreeing on where to go from there.
At first, Jones’ team tried to punch holes in Jane Doe No. 3’s story based on legally obtained records, phone bills listing all calls made during the time she supposedly was victimized. But such records showed only the numbers dialed and length of the calls, not what was said.
In July 1999, Richards tried playing the defense wild card outside court. According to a summary filed in court by the prosecution, Jane Doe No. 3 ran into him at the Barfly nightclub and was stunned to hear him say that he had heard recordings of her calls that would “embarrass her” if she testified.
Davis, the chief defense lawyer at the time, wrote his own memo on the incident, which eventually surfaced in court as well. He said Richards claimed that Pellicano was the one who suggested the tactic of confronting Jane Doe No. 3. As for telling the woman that they had recordings of her, however, “I specifically inquired whether he had first cleared that with Pellicano,” Davis wrote. “After a long pause, Richards indicated he had not.”
Davis’ memo suggested it was risky to let that slip out, for the woman would probably tell prosecutors and set off an investigation into “a conspiracy to illegally tape conversations.”
In fact, the prosecution did bring a motion to require the defense to produce any recordings. Davis replied with an ambiguous letter stating that “to the extent that any may have been made” they were not “within my direct or indirect possession.”
Recalling the incident now, Davis says that as a criminal lawyer, “I often come into cases where there may have been crimes committed. You don’t have an obligation to broadcast that. You have an obligation to conceal that.” Here he worried about raising a “disastrous side issue” — the eavesdropping — that could reflect negatively on their client, because his own investigator had done it.
But Richards said he had a different view — that for starters he had to tell Jones about the evidence that might free him.
“Believe me, the other parties were not thrilled I did it,” he recalled. “They thought I was like a goody two-shoes because I told the client.”
The lawyers did agree on one thing — that Pellicano was not about to relinquish the evidence, and that he was a formidable obstacle.
“I couldn’t go to Pellicano’s office with a gun and demand a tape,” Richards said.
Jones said he initially did not understand the significance of the apparent wiretapping, then decided that it explained why Pellicano had seemed able to read his mind when he pondered getting a new investigator and lawyer.
“He would threaten me ‘We’re going to quit working on your case,’ ” Jones said.
Jones did get a new legal team, including private detective Bill Pavelic and veteran attorneys Robert Shapiro, Milton Grimes and Richard G. Sherman, who made a crusade of getting the recordings.
“My feeling was that Pellicano was recording not so much to eavesdrop on incoming information [but] so he could control the client,” said Sherman, who considered the detective a phony, basically a sound technician, “and then all of a sudden overnight he became a tough private eye from Chicago and he started spreading this aura, ‘baseball bat Tony.’ ” Sherman wrote Pellicano a letter asking for the tapes, saying, “You understand Gordon is facing a life sentence .”
Sherman said Pellicano responded with a contentious letter suggesting that Jones deserved to be in jail. Sherman, an amateur boxer in younger days, said he sent Pellicano “several messages, ‘Just tell me when and where.’ And he never responded. So I don’t think he’s a tough guy.”
As Jones’ trial approached, Sherman brought the whole issue into court, including the memo of the recordings. But Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Connor was not about to dismiss charges based on the defense’s own shenanigans.
“I’ve never heard anything like this,” the judge said, suggesting that if Jones’ own representatives wronged him, “he can sue these people.”
So the criminal trial went on — without the recordings. And another sort of tape proved crucial for the defense.
The new private eye, Pavelic, said he paid $10,000 to get a videotape taken by a security camera at the Garden of Eden the evening Jones met Jane Doe No. 1. She was the most credible accuser, having gone to authorities before the sensational TV reports. But the video showed her walking out on her own power from the club where she had allegedly been drugged, enough for 12 jurors to find reasonable doubt in her story too.
A Long Beach jury deliberated 15 days before finding Jones not guilty on July 27, 2001, setting him free on the spot.
Jones said he was dining a few months later at Mastro’s Steakhouse when he saw Pellicano across the room.
“He sent me a bottle of wine,” Jones recalled. “Last time I saw him.”
A year after their encounter at the steakhouse, Pellicano became a criminal suspect himself when then-Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch discovered a dead fish on the smashed window of her car, and FBI agents investigating the vandalism searched his office and found C4 plastic explosive and hand grenades, along with possible evidence of wiretapping.
That set off the three-year investigation that threatens to ensnare legal and entertainment power brokers and has Pellicano awaiting a trial that could keep him in custody for the rest of his life, “getting exactly what he deserves,” Jones said.
Jones’ early lawyers, Davis and Richards, said they received subpoenas to turn over documents but have never been told they are “subjects of interest” in the federal investigation, one that Davis says has left the public with a distorted image of Pellicano.
“Without the gratuitous illegalities, he’s as good as the rest of them,” Davis said of the imprisoned private eye. “That’s the shame. He did do a good job for me on other cases.”
No Wiretapping ChargesIn retrospect, it’s easy to think that a full-scale investigation of Pellicano might have begun years earlier had the smoke signals from the Jones case been pursued.
But even the defense lawyers were not sure whether he had a recording device right in Jones’ house, say, or a centralized system like the Telesleuth cited in the federal indictment.
The prosecutors, meanwhile were in the middle of a complex 2 1/2 -year legal fight and, “We would have needed probable cause . Our suspicious didn’t rise to that,” Kerlin said. “It didn’t occur to us to stop and investigate him.”
Yet when the racketeering indictment against Pellicano was unsealed last month, both sides were surprised that there were no wiretapping charges stemming from their case.
Federal authorities declined to say whether they found recordings from Jones’ home, but there apparently is a simple reason there was no wiretapping count in this instance — the eavesdropping alleged in the Jones case took place before the five-year statute of limitations for that crime. Any wiretapping by Pellicano before 2001 would now seem to be immune from charges.
Federal prosecutors used a different approach in charging Pellicano with illegally accessing law enforcement databases, however. They allege a continuing pattern that began earlier, thus enabling eight of the Jane Does to make the list of names he’s accused of running through police computers.
Here once again, the Jones case provides a preview of what may ultimately come out in the federal investigation: the detective’s background reports, imprinted with his pelican symbol.
Some of those were among thousands of pages of documents obtained by attorneys for Jane Doe No. 1, who sued Jones and eventually won a sealed settlement.
Pellicano’s reports included the women’s driver’s license photos, criminal histories and financial data down to the $68.15 one earned in 1979 while working at a Motel 6. “Down to the penny!” marveled one of her lawyers, Steven A. Schuman.
Schuman also found something that startled him enough to go to the district attorney: a defense memo titled, “Vulnerability of Karla Kerlin Because of Las Vegas Background.”
The memo apparently stemmed from a conversation between Davis and a friend of the prosecutor, who had known her in 1985, before law school, when she worked in a Bally’s stage show, “Jubilee.” It included the notation “afterthought: likely they had friends, boyfriends or at least one good lover while they were in Las Vegas.”
Another memo, apparently dividing up chores of the defense team, said: “Pellicano to ‘take out’ DDA Kerlin and follow up on [another prosecutor]”
A lawyer for Pellicano did not return calls seeking comment. Davis said recently that attorney-client privilege limited what he could say, but he called the memos “at worst some unfortunate defense jargon” that was all talk, “nothing more was done.”
Kerlin figures they were “looking for nude photos,” as if that had anything to do with whether the defendant was a rapist. “What was the goal?” she asked. “Public humiliation.”
She remains amused that the defense may have thought she would be intimidated by “proof I was hot once.” In reality, she was trained in ballet, danced clothed and “everyone in the legal community knew I was a showgirl.”Indeed, on her application to the prosecutor’s office, Kerlin said, she dutifully listed her boss in Las Vegas, “Fluff LeCoque.”