Blackmail

INSIDE STORY: How Celebs Thwart Their Blackmailers

12/20/2009 at 10:00 AM EST

INSIDE STORY: How Celebs Thwart Their Blackmailers
John Travolta (left) and John Stamos
Phil McCarten/Landov, Henry McGee/Globe
In an industry where privacy is hard to come by, celebrities prefer to keep their dirty laundry behind closed doors. But a recent string of extortion plots against Hollywood players has them coming out swinging – no matter the risks of humiliation or hardship.

Larry Stein, an attorney who represented actor Rob Lowe and his wife in an alleged extortion plot by their former nannies, says, in fact, more celebrities are willing to face down their blackmailers.

"Celebrities have to let people know that they’re not going to be extorted, or that they’re not going to be threatened," Stein says. "It’s important to distance yourselves from these people and tell them you’re not going to be bullied by them … People are prepared to stand up to it now."

The days of handling things "privately" are long gone. Celebrities are willing to testify in open court, pursue criminal charges and even admit to embarrassing love affairs – all in the name of justice.



"A number of celebrities have taken it and taken it and then, finally, enough is enough. I’m finding more and more people are fed up with the false accusations and the intrusion into their privacy," says Stein.

Here’s a look at some of the most recent blackmail schemes gone awry:


John Travolta, the Politician and the Paramedic:
After the death of their 16-year-old son, Jett, in the Bahamas last January, Travolta and his family were given another blow by the very people they trusted: former Bahamian Sen. Pleasant Bridgewater and paramedic Tarino Lightburn. The duo conspired to extort $25 million from Travolta in exchange for not publicly releasing a document relating to Jett's treatment. During Lightburn and Bridgewater's trial, Travolta testified, revealing personal details about finding Jett in his room and the frantic efforts to save him. A mistrial was declared in October because of juror misconduct. A judge has ordered a retrial.

David Letterman's Late Show Sex Plot:
The late-night funnyman stunned viewers in October when he announced on the Late Show that he was the victim of a $2-million extortion attempt. Robert Joel "Joe" Halderman, a former CBS producer, threatened to expose Letterman's sexual relations with female employees, including Halderman's then-girlfriend, Stephanie Birkitt. (Birkitt was Letterman's assistant.) Letterman, who participated in the sting operation, immediately reported the plot to CBS and authorities, telling viewers, "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." Halderman is seeking the dismissal of the case against him.


Cindy Crawford and the Unauthorized Photo:
The supermodel and her entrepreneur hubby Rande Gerber were blackmailed for $100,000 by an acquaintance of their nanny who claimed to have a revealing photo of their 7-year-old daughter. The photo, taken by the nanny, showed the girl in "revealing clothing, bound to a chair and gagged," according to documents filed in U.S. District Court. Male model Edis "Eddie" Kayalar, 26, surrendered to authorities in his native Germany. He allegedly threatened the Gerbers with releasing the photo if they didn't pay up. He has been charged with one count of extortion. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence of up to two years. The nanny, who has not been named, has not been charged.

Posing with Fans Causes Trouble for John Stamos:
The Full House star says he was blackmailed for $680,000 by a duo threatening to sell pictures of the actor, which he claims are photos of him "posing with fans." Allison Coss, 23, and Scott Sippola, 30, were arrested last week in an FBI sting operation. Stamos said he met Coss while on a 2004 vacation in Florida and kept in touch with her. Last month, he began receiving e-mail threats from a man demanding cash. Coss indicated in e-mails to Stamos that she was aware of the plot. Both suspects have since posted bond, and the case is still pending.

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