A TV producer accused of trying to blackmail David Letterman for $2 million said he needed money to visit his son and would mask the transaction as a business deal, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Robert J. "Joe" Halderman also told the comedian's lawyer he would keep copies of his information on Letterman's love life for "protection," worrying that he could be fired — or even killed — in retaliation for the scheme, Manhattan prosecutors said in court papers.
"The issue is your client does not want this information public," Halderman told Letterman's attorney in a secretly taped conversation, according to prosecutors. "I have said, for a price, I will sign a confidentiality agreement and I will not make this information public. That's, that's the deal."
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A judge is expected to rule next month on Halderman's argument to dismiss the attempted grand larceny case, which prompted Letterman to disclose on-air that he had had affairs with staffers.
Halderman says he was just shopping a thinly veiled screenplay about Letterman's life to the late-night TV icon. The Manhattan District Attorney's office says his conduct and comments make it clear his goal was hush money to keep quiet about Letterman's dalliances.
In sometimes scattered remarks to Letterman's lawyer, Halderman lamented that he couldn't afford to go see a son who lives 2,000 miles away, insisted on rigging up a contract and getting paid by check in case of a tax audit and worried that Letterman might engineer his firing or worse in revenge, according to accounts in prosecutors' filing Tuesday.
"Should I be fired, mysteriously ... if my house burns down ... any number of things that, I don't know this person, I've never met this person, I have no idea who or what he is or is capable of," Halderman said, according to the court papers. He added that someone might decide "the only way to be sure that I never talk to anybody is for somebody to kill me," the papers said. Prosecutors arranged for Letterman's lawyer to record two meetings with Halderman.
Halderman laid out his cover story frankly, saying he would tell his accountant, "I'm optioning a screenplay. I think that's how we should define it," according to the papers.
Still, he expressed misgivings about the scheme, telling Letterman's lawyer he was "not terribly impressed by" his own conduct, according to the papers.
"His efforts to define and characterize his actions as something legitimate and make the 'deal' appear normal are nothing more than a transparent charade," assistant district attorneys Judy Salwen and Peirce R. Moser wrote.
Halderman's lawyer, Gerald Shargel, stood by his contention that the exchange was aboveboard business.
"He had intellectual property relating to Letterman's poor conduct. He had the right to sell that intellectual property," Shargel said Tuesday.
Halderman has said in court papers that he threatened nothing more than a sale to someone else if Letterman said no.
In a package given to Letterman's driver Sept. 9, Halderman said he needed "a large chunk of money" and described a screenplay depicting Letterman's life unraveling after his personal life was exposed, authorities said.
The package included photos, personal letters and portions of a diary in which Halderman's ex-girlfriend — a Letterman assistant — described an affair with the comic, law enforcement officials have said.
Halderman referred to letters, phone bills and the woman's "confession" in the taped conversations, according to court papers.
Letterman's lawyer has said Halderman's message and tactics were pure extortion, noting that he delivered his package around 6 a.m. and demanded a response within two hours.
Halderman, who made about $214,000 in 2007, had said he was struggling financially because of his divorce, according to his ex-wife's lawyers. They said in papers filed in a Connecticut court that his money troubles were due to "mismanagement and extravagant spending" on golf trips and other luxuries.
Halderman, a 52-year-old producer for CBS' "48 Hours Mystery," has pleaded not guilty. He could face five to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The network declined Tuesday to discuss his status there.
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