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David Letterman Blackmailer Says It Was Business, Not Extortion

A lawyer for the CBS TV producer accused of blackmailing David Letterman says his client was simply peddling a screenplay.

"There was no extortion. There was a screenplay for sale," said Gerald Shargel outside the courtroom on Tuesday as he asked a Manhattan judge to dismiss the attempted first-degree grand larceny charge. "There was a commercial transaction. Nothing more."

Robert J. 'Joe' Halderman has been accused of extortion after he told Letterman he would keep quiet about his sexual affairs with female staff in exchange for $2 million.

Shargel argued that the indictment against Halderman should be dismissed because his conduct wasn't a crime. He pointed out Halderman demanded a written contract and agreed to accept a bank check for the 'screenplay' inspired Letterman's antics, traceable items no blackmailer would seek.

"A hard-driven arm's-length commercial transaction does not constitute extortion," said Shargel. He further argued that the prosecution's case "infringes on Halderman's basic First Amendment right to author and/or sell a book."

Shargel's said Halderman simply realized he had "a valuable subject for a book or a movie" and planned to sell it to Letterman, with a threat to do nothing more than sell it elsewhere if the talk show host rejected it.

"I have no plans to do anything other than either sell you this option -- this screenplay -- to you and therefore you own the story. Or if you don't and you're not interested, as I've said, then that's fine, and I will proceed, and I will do what I want to do, which is what I've been thinking about doing, anyway - which is writing a book," Halderman told Letterman's lawyer in one taped exchange prior to his arrest.

Letterman's lawyer said Halderman's tactic of delivering a threat at 6 AM and demanding a response within two hours shows his motive was anything but commercial.

The package included a letter, synopsis of a screenplay that said Letterman's world would soon "collapse around him", photos, and portions of ex-girlfriend Stephanie Birkitt's diary.

"It's classic blackmail, no matter how Mr. Halderman's lawyer wants to dress it up," attorney Daniel J. Horwitz said outside court. "Mr. Letterman is fully prepared to see this through to the end, including testifying at trial."

The 52-year-old has pleaded not guilty and could face up to fifteen years in prison if convicted.

November 11, 2009 |

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