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Published: Wednesday, 3/10/2010

Ex-TV producer pleads guilty in Letterman extortion plot


NEW YORK - A former television producer pressured by debt and torn by jealousy admitted yesterday that he tried to extract vengeance and money by shaking down David Letterman in a case that made public the late-night host's affairs with staffers.

Robert "Joe" Halderman pleaded guilty to attempted grand larceny, acknowledging he tried to chisel $2 million from Mr. Letterman. He threatened to destroy Mr. Letterman's reputation by airing his workplace dalliances - using information authorities have said he obtained from a former girlfriend's diary.

The plea deal by Halderman, a producer for CBS' 48 Hours Mystery at the time, spares him a potential 15 years in prison had he been convicted. The 52-year-old will face a six-month jail sentence and 1,000 hours of community service.

The plea deal also spares Mr. Letterman the prospect of a trial that could have put his private life on display, although the comedian defused much of Halderman's potential bombshell last fall by revealing that he had slept with women on his staff.

Under the plea deal, Halderman must give prosecutors all copies of any diary entries, photos, screenplay notes, or other materials he has concerning Mr. Letterman and must agree never to reveal the contents.

The case at first dealt a blow to Mr. Letterman's nice-guy image; even he described his office affairs as "creepy" as he stunned viewers with an Oct. 1 monologue that disclosed the liaisons and the blackmail plot.

Halderman apologized to the host of the Late Show, also on CBS, as he spelled out the details of his crime in court, reading a prepared statement at first so quickly that the judge asked him to slow down.

"I attempted to extort $2 million from David Letterman by threatening to disclose personal and private information about him, whether true or false," he said.

Halderman acknowledged delivering the threat to Mr. 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," said Halderman.

He subsequently met with Mr. Letterman's lawyer, who eventually gave him a phony $2 million check.

"I feel great remorse for what I have done," Halderman said, apologizing to Mr. Letterman, the comic's family, and his own former girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt.

Defense attorney Gerald Shargel said later yesterday his client "was both jealous and enraged" and under financial pressure.

Halderman, who made about $214,000 in 2007, was struggling with money after a divorce, according to court papers filed by his ex-wife's lawyers.

Outside court, Halderman repeated his apologies and said no more. He remains free on bail until his sentencing, set for May 4.

CBS News said Halderman was no longer an employee but declined to give any specifics on whether he had quit or been fired.

Mr. Letterman thanked prosecutors for pursuing the case.

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