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TV producer pleads guilty in David Letterman case

By JENNIFER PELTZ
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - A television producer admitted Tuesday to trying
to shake down David Letterman in a case that bared the late-night
icon's affairs with staffers, avoiding a long prison sentence by
pleading guilty in exchange for six months in jail and community
service.
Robert "Joe" Halderman, 52, entered the plea in a Manhattan
court to attempted grand larceny after being accused of demanding
$2 million to keep quiet about the late-night comic's workplace
love life.
Halderman, a producer for CBS' "48 Hours Mystery," had mined
information from reading his then-girlfriend's diary entries about
her relationship with Letterman, her boss, authorities said.
The Manhattan district attorney's office said the debt-strapped
Halderman threatened to ruin Letterman's reputation, disguising his
demands as a deal for a thinly veiled screenplay about the
comedian.
"In September of 2009, I attempted to extort $2 million from
David Letterman by threatening to disclose personal and private
information about him, whether true or false," Halderman said in
court, reading a prepared statement at first so quickly that
Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon asked him to
slow down.
Halderman acknowledged delivering the threat to Letterman's
driver, in the form of a screenplay outline, or "treatment."
"This so-called treatment was just a thinly veiled threat to
ruin Mr. Letterman if he did not pay me a lot of money," Halderman
said, dressed in a gray suit. He subsequently met with Letterman's
lawyer, who eventually gave him a phony $2 million check.
"I knew throughout this time that I was not engaged in a
legitimate business transaction with Mr. Letterman and that what I
was doing was against New York law," Halderman said, adding that
he realized he had violated the privacy of Letterman and his
family.
"I feel great remorse for what I have done," Halderman said,
apologizing to Letterman, the comic's family, and his own former
girlfriend, Stephanie Birkett.
Outside court, Halderman repeated his apologies, declined any
interviews and said no more. He remains free on bail until his
sentencing, set for May 4. In addition to the jail sentence, he
agreed to 1,000 hours of community service; he would have faced up
to 15 years in prison if convicted at a trial.
Through his lawyers, Letterman thanked Manhattan prosecutors for
pursuing the case.
"When they became involved in this case, I had complete faith
that a just and appropriate result was inevitable," he said in a
statement they read outside court.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. noted that
Letterman had come to authorities knowing the case could push his
private life into public view.
"Mr. Letterman is a public figure, but like all New Yorkers, he
has a right to a certain degree of privacy in his public life,"
said Vance, who took over the case from predecessor Robert
Morgenthau in January.
Halderman's lawyer, who had raised free-speech and other issues
in his attempt to portray the producer's behavior as a business
deal, said Halderman ultimately decided he needed to end the case.
"We had a novel defense here involving complicated legal
issues. I was very excited about the defense," said the lawyer,
Gerald Shargel. "But there would be a long road ahead of us, and
considering the risks and the rewards and the need for Joe to put
this behind him and get on with his life, those needs were
paramount."
Letterman married longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko last year.
They began dating in 1986 and have a 6-year-old son.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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