A CBS producer who works on the true-crime show 48 Hours pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that he attempted to extort $2 million from David Letterman by threatening to reveal the Late Show host had sex with staffers.
Robert J. "Joe" Halderman pleaded in a New York City court to one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny. Bail was set at $200,000. Conviction could bring him five to 15 years in jail.
Arrest Made in Letterman Blackmail Scheme
"Our concern here is extortion, and that's what we're focusing on," Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.
The DA said Halderman, a 51-year-old Emmy-winning producer, left a letter for Letterman early Sept. 9, saying he needed "to make a large chunk of money" by selling Letterman a screenplay treatment — and promising that Letterman's world would "collapse around him" if details about his private life became public.
CBS said it had suspended Halderman from his job.
The plot led to a sting operation in which Letterman's lawyer recorded Halderman's demands, authorities said.
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The Associated Press reported that documents filed in Stamford Superior Court in Connecticut show that Halderman, of Norwalk, Conn., was required to pay nearly $6,000 a month in child and spousal support.
"He's doing as well as can be expected," his lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said outside of court.
"There is another side to the story," Shargel said. "I'm not telling it today."
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In March, Letterman married longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko. The two have a 6-year-old son together, Harry.
Letterman's show became the most popular in its time slot over the summer after NBC replaced Jay Leno with Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show.
Preliminary estimates showed ratings went up 22 percent for Letterman's Thursday show. It had a 4.4 rating/12 share, compared with season averages of 3.6 rating/9 share.
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The late-night host discussed the whole mess on his show in a rambling, riveting monologue.
In a remarkable confessional on Thursday night's Late Show with David Letterman, the 62-year-old comedian initially appeared to be setting up a comedy routine, and the audience laughed as he unfurled the saga — at the beginning. What the audience got was a stem-winding account of Letterman as, well, victim and villain. He took some 10 minutes, cleverly reeling in both studio audience and viewers, saying that it began with a letter and package left in his car, which he discovered at 6 in the morning. "Maybe these things look better at noon," he joked.
"I know that you do some terrible, terrible things and that I can prove you do some terrible things," Letterman quoted the letter as saying.
The chortles and chuckles kept coming until he revealed that he was being held up for $2 million and felt that someone might be watching, even ready to spring out at him, as he stood by his car.
The audience stopped laughing, responding with "ooooh."
"I want to reiterate how terrifying this is. I'm motivated by nothing but guilt. I'm a towering mass of Lutheran Midwestern guilt," said the Indiana native.
"This morning, I did something I've never done in my life," Letterman said. "I had to go downtown and testify before a grand jury. ... I had to tell them all the creepy things I had done. ... I have had sex with women who work for me on this show."
He said he admitted that to the grand jury, too.
"Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would — especially for the women," he cracked. "But that's a decision for them, if they want to go public and talk."
Letterman said the "whole thing has been quite scary," concluding: "I don't plan to say much more about this on this particular topic."
Back from commercial, Woody Harrelson was the first guest — and the tawdry tale still lingered in the air.
"Good to be here on this auspicious night," he said with a smirk evoking his character in Natural Born Killers.
"Mr. Letterman addressed the issue during the show's broadcast this evening, and we believe his comments speak for themselves," CBS said in the statement.
Details about the liaisons — and when they occurred — were not offered. His Late Show has aired on CBS since 1993. On NBC, Late Night with David Letterman aired from 1982 to 1993.
It's the second dustup in four months for Letterman. He wound up apologizing to 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for making a crude joke about her 14-year-old daughter in June.