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FBI Probing Top Hollywood Lawyers

This story is going to get a lot bigger. It's an FBI probe into whether major Los Angeles and Hollywood law firms knew a private investigator whose services they were using was obtaining information for them through illegal wiretaps.

Anthony Pellicano, the high-profile private investigator to the stars and their lawyers, was arrested last year and charged with possessing explosives. He pleaded guilty (no plea deal) and begins a prison term next week. He has asked to start serving the sentence now even though he isn't scheduled to be sentenced until January. He is expected to be sentenced to between 27 and 33 months.

During the search of Pellicano's computers, authorities came across reams of information and documents suggesting that Pellicano had conducted illegal wiretaps, perhaps with the assistance of someone at the LA Sheriff's Department.

A full-blown federal investigation is now underway. Here's how it all began:

The probe has its unlikely roots in an incident involving Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch, who was investigating the connection between action star Steven Seagal and alleged mafia associate Julius Nasso.

On the morning of June 20, 2002, when Busch walked out of her apartment, she found an overturned cooking pan on her windshield, along with a taped cardboard sign reading, "Stop." There was a small shatter in the windshield. Under the pan was a rose and a dead fish. Los Angeles police were called to the scene and initiated an investigation.

The next day, a man telephoned Busch, telling her that someone was going to blow up her car and that he knew his name. In all, he called about six times. Authorities later tracked down the caller, who agreed to wear a hidden microphone in a meeting with the alleged vandal, an ex-convict and onetime drug dealer named Alexander Proctor.

In an Aug. 13, 2002, conversation, according to documents submitted in court by the FBI, Proctor said the man who had hired him "was the private investigator Anthony Pellicano." Pellicano denied he had anything to do with the threatening gesture against Busch. But with Proctor's statement in hand, federal agents obtained a search warrant. Last Nov. 21, a dozen investigators descended on Pellicano's offices in a Sunset Boulevard office building.

There they found in a safe two modified hand grenades and a quantity of C-4 military-type plastic explosives, as well as $200,000 in cash, jewelry and gold bullion. Pellicano was allowed to keep the $200,000 but was charged with two counts of felony possession of explosives. In the FBI raid, agents also found computer files with massive amounts of information chronicling Pellicano's work history.

...."They [FBI agents] believe they have evidence Anthony Pellicano illegally wiretapped people," said one person close to the investigation. ...."And they are certainly implying to people that they only found out about who to talk to because of wiretaps."

Along the way, investigators also uncovered evidence suggesting that an Los Angeles Police Department sergeant tapped into confidential police computer databases in search of personal information on Pellicano's behalf. Sgt. Mark Arneson, a veteran of nearly 30 years on the LAPD, was suspended as a result. In checking the computer logs in Arneson's department, investigators said they found a pattern of connections with people whom Pellicano was investigating, including reporter Busch.

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