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Joe Halderman took check from David Letterman but is still innocent, lawyer says

October 5, 2009 |  8:46 am

The lawyer for accused extortionist Robert “Joe” Halderman said today that the full story about his client’s alleged attempt to blackmail David Letterman for $2 million has not yet come out. During a round of interviews on the network morning shows, Gerald Shargel, a well-regarded criminal defense attorney, acknowledged that Halderman did deposit a check given to him by Letterman’s attorney, but said that his actions did not constitute attempted grand larceny.

“Depositing the check was not illegal,” Shargel told ABC’s Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America." “The surrounding circumstances are what’s relevant. The surrounding circumstances will reveal what Mr. Halderman’s intent was.”

Halderman, a veteran producer for the CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours Mystery,” was arrested Thursday after prosecutors said he demanded money from the late-night host in exchange for keeping quiet about affairs Letterman had with members of his staff.  The comic discussed the extortion attempt and admitted to the relationships on the "Late Show" Thursday night.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said prosecutors have recordings of Halderman demanding the money from Letterman’s attorney, surreptitiously taped when the two met at a swank Manhattan hotel to discuss the deal.

Shargel declined to go into details about his client’s actions, saying he was still gathering information about the case, but said it did not make sense that Halderman would try to pull off such a crime. He noted repeatedly that he had never heard of an extortion attempt in which someone asks for a check.

“Joe Halderman was at CBS for 27 years,” he told Roberts. “Here's a guy who was an investigative journalist for so many years. He knows all about cops and wiretaps. And to suggest that he was trapped in an extortion plot is sort of preposterous.”

"I'm not saying he didn't take the check," Shargel told Maggie Rodriguez on CBS’ “The Early Show." “But the question at the end of the day is, what was his intent? One of the things that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, one of the elements of the offense, is that Joe Halderman had specific criminal intent. And I say to you and to the public that we shouldn't rush to judgment, because I think, at the end of the day, when the case is tried and after the cross-examination of David Letterman and the full story comes out, I'm confident that a jury will not find that specific criminal intent."

On “Today,” Shargel suggested that Letterman is holding back facts about the case. “David Letterman gave what he wanted the public to know,” he told Ann Curry. “He wanted to get ahead of the story, and that’s what he did. He’s a master at manipulating audiences, that’s what he does for a living. So to think that David Letterman gave the entire story, and there’s nothing more to be said, is simply wrong.”

Shargel acknowledged that Halderman was struggling with financial problems since his divorce, but said the debt was not something new he had to contend with.

“Joe Halderman was not an extortionist,” he told Curry. “Joe Halderman is a person with an impeccable reputation, highly regarded in the industry and he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence.”

-- Matea Gold