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Suspect in Letterman extortion pleads not guilty
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A TV producer pleaded not guilty on Friday to a $2 million extortion attempt against talk show host David Letterman a day after the comedian stunned Americans by revealing the plot -- and his sexual affairs with co-workers -- on his own show.
Robert Joel Halderman, a producer for the CBS news show "48 Hours," was indicted by a grand jury on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted grand larceny in a New York court appearance on Friday.
Letterman, 62, admitted on his "Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS on Thursday night that he had sex with women who worked with him on the program.
To a mixture of gasps and laughter, Letterman told his audience he went to authorities after receiving a package threatening to reveal the details.
Prosecutors said on Friday that Halderman appeared at Letterman's Manhattan home on September 9 and left a package in the comedian's car with a one-page screenplay outlining the affairs and a letter demanding "a large chunk of money."
Letterman, a fixture of late-night TV since 1982, married in March for a second time. The couple had a son in 2003.
Halderman faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted. The judge set bail at $200,000. His lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said the incident "is far more complex than what you heard this afternoon."
Several news websites said one of the women involved with Letterman was a former assistant on his show who also lived with Halderman for some time. They said the affair apparently ended before Letterman's son was born.
OUTRAGE AND APPLAUSE
Letterman's decision to come clean about the suspected blackmail attempt, and admit affairs with members of his staff, was met with applause and outrage from fans and the media.
The CBS.com website made no mention of the revelations, but a video on YouTube of Letterman's account of the matter had been watched more than 3,300 times.
Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker called the admission "an extraordinary piece of television" that could play out in unpredictable ways for Letterman and CBS.
"He took what could be a damaging scandal, a tale of blackmail and workplace relationships, and turned it into a story that was at least in part about what he termed his 'towering, Midwestern mass of guilt,'" Tucker wrote.
Some viewers of his show applauded Letterman for admitting the affairs. But a posting on the Washingtonpost.com comment site read: "Ewwwww...sex with Letterman??? He's such a sleaze."
Others took the admission more seriously. "In a world where people are chastised and made a mockery for having affairs .... Dave gets off with laughs? ... For the audience to laugh and applaud is just another sign of how this country has lost its morals," wrote Mike G on the Kansas City Star newspaper message boards.
Letterman was also targeted in 2005 when police pre-empted a plot to kidnap his son and ransom him for $5 million.
(Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Peter Cooney)