The Manhattan district attorney has identified the man at the center of an alleged $2 million extortion plot against David Letterman. During a press conference on Friday morning, DA Robert Morgenthau said CBS News producer Robert "Joe" Halderman, who works for "48 Hours," has been charged with the crime of attempted grand larceny for an extortion plot that allegedly took place between September 9 and September 30.
According to Morgenthau, Halderman waited outside Letterman's New York apartment on the morning of September 9, hoping to give him a package and saying he needed a "large chunk of money" in exchange. The package allegedly contained a screenplay treatment Halderman was planning to sell that outlined Letterman's various liaisons with staffers on his show. Halderman is alleged to have threatened that the late-night host's life was about to "collapse" around him if the news got out.
People magazine reported that the one-page treatment mentioned Letterman's 6-year-old "beautiful, loving son," Harry, and referred to "ruined reputation and severe damage to [Letterman's] professional and family lives." After handing off the package, Halderman allegedly said he would contact Letterman at 8 a.m. to further discuss the matter. Letterman immediately called his lawyer, who met with Halderman at the Essex Hotel on September 15, when Halderman allegedly tried to extort $2 million from Letterman in exchange for keeping the news of the affairs quiet.
TMZ reported that Halderman held three meetings with Letterman's lawyers at the Essex Hotel — the last two of which were recorded — and that at the third one, Halderman was given a phony $2 million check. He was arrested on Thursday morning while trying to cash the check.
Letterman began dating wife Regina Lasko beginning in 1986, and they married this March, nearly six years after Harry's birth. It was not revealed when the affairs with staffers took place. Letterman discussed the alleged extortion bid on his show on Thursday night, admitting to the affairs and giving some details of his grand jury testimony about the plot.
In a further twist to the case, until recently, Halderman was reportedly living with Stephanie Birkitt, a woman who once served as Letterman's assistant. TMZ reported that Letterman and Birkitt had a relationship that ended before Harry was born in 2003. Halderman is reported to have held onto Birkitt's diary, correspondence and photos, which allegedly incriminated Letterman.
CBS legal analyst Lisa Bloom said on Friday morning that Letterman likely was forced to come clean about the affairs to avoid the fallout from potential leaks once the matter went to the grand jury. "There's always the possibility of leaks, so he had to get out there first. He had to tell the story; he had to acknowledge his part in it," she said. "He had to acknowledge all of the allegations that he's making. I think he had to do what he did."
Bloom suspected that by delivering the news on his own show, Letterman was probably trying to protect his reputation by getting ahead of the story. She said Halderman could be facing nine to 15 years in prison for the attempted grand larceny charge. If the sting went down as Morgenthau explained it, and Halderman took the phony $2 million check, Bloom said the DA's office has a "pretty good" case on its hands.