Letterman Extortion Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

A CBS news producer indicted in connection with comedian David Letterman's revelation that he was the target of an extortion attempt has pleaded not guilty. On his show Thursday, Letterman revealed the attempted extortion was over affairs he had with women staffers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The man accused of trying to extort money from David Letterman pleaded not guilty this afternoon. The CBS News employee allegedly threatened to blackmail the late-night host with information about sexual affairs with staffers.

NPR's Robert Smith has more on the case.

ROBERT SMITH: It sounds more like �Law and Order� than �Late Night with David Letterman� - blackmail, sexual indiscretions, secret recordings. But last night, Letterman managed to foil an extortion scheme on national television and keep his audience laughing at the same time. He described a threatening note he had received.

(Soundbite of TV show, �Late Show with David Letterman�)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, �Late Show with David Letterman�): It says that - I know that you do some terrible, terrible things�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LETTERMAN: �and I can prove that you do these terrible things. And sure enough, contained in the package was stuff to prove that I do terrible things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Letterman didn't detail what was in the package, but he says he told the police and a grand jury what the subject was.

(Soundbite of TV show, �Late Show with David Letterman�)

Mr. LETTERMAN: And the creepy stuff was that I have had sex with women who work for me on this show. Now, my response to that is: Yes, I have.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LETTERMAN: I have had sex with women who work on this show.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: The man accused of sending the note, Robert Joe Halderman, was arrested yesterday and arraigned this afternoon on one count of grand larceny. He's a producer for the CBS News show �48 Hours.� If convicted, he could serve five to 15 years in prison. Bail was set at $200,000. According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, Halderman met several times with David Letterman's lawyer. The lawyer was wearing a wire, and police were listening in a hotel room next door. Halderman allegedly said that he was going to produce a movie and write a book about the misdeeds of David Letterman unless he got $2 million. D.A. Robert Morgenthau says that made the case clear.

Mr. ROBERT MORGENTHAU (District Attorney, Manhattan): They met the requirement of extortion.

SMITH: As part of the sting, the police had Letterman's lawyer actually give Halderman a check. D.A. Morgenthau says that Halderman deposited it but didn't get away with the money.

Mr. MORGENTHAU: That check was designed to bounce.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Halderman's motives in the alleged extortion scheme are clear. Documents from his home state of Connecticut show that Halderman was divorced and required to pay nearly $6,000 a month in child support and alimony. Officials from the D.A.'s office say they will try to keep the actual information about Letterman's love life private, although they conceded that some of it might come out at trial if a trial happens. D.A. Morgenthau said it didn't matter what the threat was or what Letterman did or didn't do.

Mr. MORGENTHAU: Our role here is not to enforce the blue laws but to enforce the laws against extortion, and the facts of this case clearly come within an extortion statute.

SMITH: And don't expect to hear too many more details. David Letterman's show tonight was previously recorded. And Letterman told his audience that he doesn't plan on saying anything else about the topic.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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