Federal prosecutors for the first time have publicly linked the recent slaying of a woman in a Century City parking garage to her estranged husband, revealing in court Monday that the SUV allegedly used by the killer had been rented using the husband's credit card.
The credit card was seized from the wallet of James Fayed during a recent search of his Moorpark ranch house, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Aveis. The license plate of the vehicle was caught on security surveillance cameras and traced to an Avis rental car agency near Fayed's Camarillo business, he said.
Aveis' comments came as Fayed appeared in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to face felony charges of conducting unlicensed money transactions through the international gold trading company he ran with his wife, Pamela. Fayed, 45, was arrested Friday evening and remains in federal custody.
During the hearing, Aveis told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky that Fayed presented a danger to the community, was a flight risk and should not be allowed to post bail.
But Zarefsky said the evidence that Fayed had attempted to obstruct justice by killing his wife so she wouldn't testify against him in the federal case was "pretty thin."
He ordered the defendant released on $500,000 bond but gave prosecutors until Wednesday to appeal his decision.
Fayed, dressed in a brown T-shirt and plaid pajama-style pants, sat expressionless as the prosecutor argued his case, recounting a meeting this summer between Fayed and his wife, who were in the midst of a bitter divorce.
Aveis said Fayed told his wife, "I could have you killed and my hands would be clean." He said the defendant then made a motion as if he were wiping his hands, according to an account Pamela Fayed gave a friend.
In addition to the credit card, authorities seized $60,000, some of it sealed in plastic wrap, and $3 million in gold bullion at Fayed's house, Aveis said. Twenty-five weapons including assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition were also seized, he said.
Though Fayed has not been charged in his wife's slaying, Aveis said he had a motive to have her killed -- "so that she could not testify against him" in the criminal case at issue in Monday's hearing.
Los Angeles Police Capt. Bill Eaton said Monday that Fayed has not been named as a suspect in his wife's death.
Fayed's attorney, Mark Werksman, told Zarefsky that the prosecutor's claims were based on third-hand information from a rookie FBI agent who had only recently been briefed on the case.
"The government has rushed in here with uncorroborated, unsubstantiated allegations of a murder," he said.
Pamela Fayed, 45, was attacked by a man with a knife July 28 in the parking garage of a Century City high-rise, investigators said. The perpetrator was "lying in wait," Aveis said.
The prosecutor said Pamela and James Fayed and their attorneys were scheduled to meet at the office complex to discuss legal matters.
According to the LAPD, several witnesses said they saw a red SUV speed away from the floor of the parking garage where Pamela Fayed was slain. Surveillance cameras captured the SUV with a man at the wheel leaving the parking lot and driving down the street at high speed moments after the killing, police said.
Los Angeles police detectives investigating Pamela Fayed's slaying have been looking for possible links between her death and the couple's jointly owned companies, Goldfinger Coin and Bullion Sales and an associated Internet firm, e-Bullion, law enforcement sources have said.
Police searched James Fayed's home looking for evidence in the homicide investigation last week.
Aveis characterized Fayed's business operations during 2005 and 2006 as Ponzi schemes in which individuals invested up to $20 million.
James Fayed filed for divorce in October, and the couple had since fought bitterly over control of the companies.
Pamela Fayed, who remained in the couple's Camarillo home after they separated, said in court papers that the couple had bank accounts worth $12 million and that her husband had been blocking her access to their business records.
She asked the court for "ground rules to protect our clients and personal assets."
James Fayed alleged in a court filing that his wife "has a history of making false accusations" and had threatened "to throw me in jail." He said that when he contemplated divorce in 2000, Pamela told him she would retaliate by claiming that he had assaulted her and sexually assaulted one of their daughters.
The couple had two children, an 18-year-old daughter from Pamela's first marriage, and a 9-year-old daughter.
The Fayeds' companies function as wholesalers of precious metals and provide trading services to individuals who wish to invest in gold and silver without the cost of storing, insuring and transporting bullion. Goldfinger and e-Bullion say they maintain their own bullion vaults in Los Angeles, Delaware, Switzerland and Australia.
Company literature says that account holders can access their funds through wire transfers and debit cards that can be used at ATMs to "convert gold to cash," as an e-Bullion executive put it in a 2002 news release. Such arrangements typically appeal to people who doubt the stability of the international monetary system and who believe they are insulating their wealth from a global collapse by tying it to the value of gold.
As the Fayeds' marriage crumbled, Pamela was seeking to have the family business treated as a separate entity as it related to their divorce proceedings, according to court filings.
She said she was doing so because she feared her husband was trying to hide some of their assets and stash stores of gold and silver in secret vaults. Pamela Fayed was killed on the eve of a court hearing at which the issue was expected to be addressed.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this story.