Letterman says he was target of extortion plot

(AP) - A CBS News employee is accused of trying to extort $2 millionfrom David Letterman, forcing the late-night host to admit in anextraordinary monologue before millions of viewers that he hadsexual relationships with female employees. Letterman said that "this whole thing has been quite scary."But he mixed in jokes while outlining what had happened to him,seeming to confuse a laughing audience at Thursday's taping aboutwhether the story was true. The network said the person who was arrested works on thetrue-crime show "48 Hours" and has been suspended. A person withknowledge of the investigation said the suspect is Robert J.Halderman. The person spoke on condition of anonymity becauseauthorities have not released the suspect's name. A "48 Hours" producer named Joe Halderman was part of a teamnominated for an Emmy for outstanding continuing coverage of a newsstory in a news magazine in 2008. Two numbers listed for Haldermanwere disconnected, and a message left at a third number was notimmediately returned Thursday. Letterman's "Late Show" audience was the first to hear thestory, which came as a shock since the 62-year-old Letterman hadmarried longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko in March. The couple begandating in 1986 and have a son, Harry, born in November 2003.Fatherhood and his heart surgery in 2000 had seemed to mellowLetterman, who took over as the most popular late-night comedy hostthis summer after NBC replaced Jay Leno with Conan O'Brien on the"Tonight" show. Letterman sat behind his desk to outline the scheme after amonologue that targeted some frequent foils like Sarah Palin andDick Cheney. Three weeks ago, Letterman said, he got in his car early in themorning and found a package with a letter saying, "I know that youdo some terrible, terrible things and that I can prove that you dosome terrible things." He acknowledged the letter contained proof. He said it was terrifying "because there's something insidiousabout (it). Is he standing down there? Is he hiding under the car?Am I going to get a tap on the shoulder?" Letterman said he called his lawyer to set up a meeting with theman, who threatened to write a screenplay and a book aboutLetterman unless he was given money. There were two subsequentmeetings, with the man given a phony $2 million check at the lastone. Letterman joked it was like the giant ceremonial check givento winners of golf tournaments. He told the audience that he had to testify before a grand juryon Thursday. "I was worried for myself, I was worried for my family," hesaid. "I felt menaced by this, and I had to tell them all of thecreepy things that I had done." He said "the creepy stuff was that I have had sex with womenwho work for me on this show. My response to that is yes, I have.Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Yes, it would,especially for the women." Whether they wanted to make the relationships public was up tothem, he said. "It's been a very bizarre experience," he said. "I felt likeI needed to protect these people. I need to protect my family. Ineed to protect myself. Hope to protect my job." CBS said in a statement that "we believe his comments speak forthemselves." Perhaps as a defense mechanism, Letterman sprinkled his remarkswith jokes: "I know what you're saying," he said. "I'll bedarned, Dave had sex." He said he wouldn't talk further about it, and recited a Top Tenlist. But it wasn't far from his mind. During banter with actorguest Woody Harrelson, Letterman said, "I've got my ownproblems." It was not immediately clear when the relationships took placeor how long they lasted. Letterman's "Late Show" has been on theair since 1993. Before that, "Late Night with David Letterman"aired on NBC from 1982 to 1993. Letterman won't be taping a show Friday. Friday night's show wastaped Thursday. Alicia Maxey Greene, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan DistrictAttorney's office, declined to comment. It's the second set of embarrassing headlines for Letterman infour months. In June, he apologized to Palin for making a crudejoke about the former Republican vice presidential candidate's14-year-old daughter. Although there was a small "fire Letterman"demonstration outside of his studio later, CBS stood by itslate-night star. Last fall Letterman sharply denounced Palin's running mate, JohnMcCain, for abruptly canceling a "Late Show" appearance. Weeks ofwithering jokes by Letterman eventually forced McCain to come onthe show and beg for forgiveness. Letterman was also the victim of a 2005 plot by a former painteron his Montana ranch to kidnap his nanny and son for a $5 millionransom. The former painter, Kelly A. Frank, briefly escaped fromprison in 2007 before being recaptured. Another alleged extortion scandal surrounding a public figure,Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, similarly forced himthis summer to acknowledge an affair.

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