There certainly is no proper or correct way to extort someone, but don’t ever take a check…especially one that was specifically written to bounce once deposited. Unfortunately for Robert “Joe” Halderman, nobody told him that the 2 million dollar check he received from David Letterman was the set up for a punchline that led to his arrest. If convicted of Grand Larceny in the First Degree by Extortion, the television funny man could have the last laugh as Mr. Halderman watches Mr. Letterman in syndication for up to the next 5 to 15 years in state prison.
Having been a Manhattan prosecutor for 7 years and the lead prosecutor on the extortion attempt of an NBA All Star, I have handled the exact same case under similar facts. Instead of individuals seeking a multi-million dollar check in exchange for a video of the basket ball player, Mr. Halderman sought 2 million dollars for “screenplay treatment” and to keep a years old fling with a staffer secret.
According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release:
“The investigation leading to today’s indictment revealed that Halderman waited outside Mr. Letterman’s Manhattan home at 6 a.m. on September 9 to deliver a letter and other materials to him as he was leaving for work.”
“Halderman wrote that he needed to “make a large chunk of money” by selling Letterman a so-called “screenplay treatment.” The one-page “screenplay treatment” attached to the letter referred to Mr. Letterman’s great professional success and to his “beautiful and loving son.” The document then related that Mr. Letterman’s “world is about to collapse around him” as information about his private life is disclosed, leading to a “ruined reputation” and severe damage to his professional and family lives. The package contained other materials supporting the “screenplay treatment” and directed Mr. Letterman to call him by 8 a.m. to make a deal.”
“Mr. Letterman immediately contacted his attorney, who arranged an initial meeting with Halderman. During this initial meeting, Halderman demanded to be paid $2 million to avoid the disclosure of the private information in his so-called “screenplay treatment.”
“Following this meeting, Mr. Letterman and his attorney contacted the District Attorney’s Office and cooperated in the further investigation that led to the indictment. During subsequent meetings, Halderman repeated his demand for $2 million to prevent him from going forward with his threat to publicly disclose the personal and private information described in his initial delivery to Mr. Letterman.”
Although this case is “sexy” and exciting, there may be numerous twists and turns as it progresses. Even if convicted it is highly unlikely that the defendant would receive 5 to 15 years in state prison. In fact, the law even permits a defendant charged with this offense to get probation on a felony conviction. I guess we will all stay tuned in to see what happens next… ** New York State Extortion Primer ** On Twitter at DefenseLawyerNY.