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Mystery Shrouds Defense of Accused Letterman Blackmailer

October 5, 2009
By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

How did a veteran “48 Hours” producer end up being accused of a $2 million blackmail attempt on David Letterman?

“There is another side of this story,” Gerald Shargel, attorney for Robert J. Halderman, said. “This story is far more complicated.”

What could the plot to the other side of the story be?

Halderman has already entered a “not guilty” plea to first-degree attempted grand larceny.

According to Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, Halderman wrote to Letterman stating that he needed to “make a large chunk of money.” Attached to his letter was a one-page screenplay treatment, which described how Letterman would have a “ruined reputation” after details of the CBS “Late Show” host’s sexual relationships with young female employees were revealed.

The 51-year-old producer used a novel method to deliver the “screenplay.” Early in the morning on Sept. 9 the letter and other materials were left in the back seat of Letterman’s car, which was parked outside his Manhattan home.

In the screenplay proposal, Halderman made reference to Letterman’s success and also mentioned the late night comic’s “beautiful and loving son.” He added that Letterman’s “world is about to collapse around him” as details about his private life are exposed. He gave Letterman a deadline of 8 a.m. in which to strike a deal.

Instead of calling Halderman and striking a deal, Letterman phoned his attorney.

Letterman’s lawyer met with Halderman on Sept. 15. It was then that the producer allegedly demanded $2 million to keep mum about the sexual affairs Letterman had with female staff.

Under the watchful eye of the district attorney, Letterman’s lawyer met with Halderman two more times and secretly recorded his demands.

The attorney gave the alleged blackmailer a phony $2 million check. Halderman then tried to deposit the check in a Connecticut bank. He was arrested outside the CBS News offices and ultimately indicted on one count of attempted grand larceny in the first degree, which could land him a jail sentence of 5 to 15 years.

Is an unusual defense strategy being mulled over by lawyers for the prime time producer?

After having been married for 14 years, Halderman divorced in 2004.

A year later Stephanie Birkitt, an assistant to Letterman, moved in with Halderman. It is possible that this is the source from whom Halderman derived the information on Letterman's escapades.

Birkitt and Halderman recently split up.

Professionally, Halderman is an award winning TV producer who is known for his expertise on botched crimes. His current job as a CBS producer for the “48 Hours” television show exposed him to myriad of true crime stories about folks who succumbed to criminal activity for quick monetary gain.

Halderman had worked in the media for three decades. During that time, he garnered seven Emmys and a Columbia Dupont Award.

After producing for the “CBS Morning Show” in the early 1980s, Halderman went on to cover international news stories, which included segments on military conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia.

Public relations professional Mike Paul, who worked with the producer, told the New York Daily News that Halderman is “a guy who knows better.”

“He’s very intelligent,” Paul said. “He understands investigations of a crime. Has he done stories where people have gotten in trouble doing this? Dozens, probably hundreds.”

So what was Halderman doing?

He had once produced a movie for Showtime on the school siege in Beslan, Russia. It was titled “Three Days in September.” This means Halderman has a track record as a filmmaker.

It's fairly common for screenplays to be pitched in unconventional ways. There are stories of presentations taking place in strange places, folks wearing peculiar clothing, even disguises and pitches being made with the assistance of play acting.

Is it possible that Halderman’s lawyer will suggest that his client was merely engaged in a marketing drama and was really just pitching his screenplay to Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants, with a whole lot of Hollywood flair?

It wouldn’t be the first time a far-fetched defense approach snagged a five-star rating with a jury.

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Copyright © 2009
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
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