Letterman's TV confession foils '$2m blackmail' plot

Chat show host shocks audience with revelation that he had sex with women who worked on his late-night programme

A veteran news producer with America's CBS television network has been arrested and charged with plotting to blackmail the popular late-night chat show host, David Letterman, by threatening to reveal certain "terrible things" about it him and his sexual meanderings unless he was paid £2m.

Details of the charges against Robert Halderman, 57, who is accused of trying to extort money from Letterman over his past, and previously private, history of having sex with women who worked on his programme, were spelled out yesterday morning by the New York district attorney.

However, a bare-bones version of the story had already been offered up on Thursday night by Letterman during one of the more unusual episodes of his nightly variety show, which is screened on CBS. "I'm glad you folks are here tonight and in such a good mood," he told his studio audience. "Do you feel like a story?"

Letterman, whose ratings have surged since President Barack Obama dropped in for a chat 10 days ago, proceeded to explain that he found a suspect package in his car three weeks ago. It contained photos and a letter that said: "I know that you do some terrible, terrible things and I can prove that you do these terrible things". Letterman, who was alternately grim-faced and jokey, added: "Sure enough, what was contained in the package was proof that I do terrible, terrible things."

Because Letterman's comedy often depends on deadpan delivery, his audience inside the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway continued to interrupt with laughter and applause even as the subject of his monologue became increasingly sombre.

It made for an hour of gripping television, not least when the 62-year-old presenter, who is married, eventually got around to acknowledging what the "terrible things" were – sleeping with women who worked for him. To more nervous audience laughter, he added: "My response to that is, yes, I have."

While it may provide another bump in ratings for The Late Show With David Letterman, the longer-term repercussions for the star are less clear. He said he contacted police when he found the package and, on their advice, arranged to meet Mr Halderman. At one of three meetings, he said, he handed over a cheque for $2m (£1.3m), though it was a fake. On Thursday, he was required to testify before a grand jury.

"This morning, I did something I've never done in my life," Letterman told his audience. "I had to go downtown and testify before a grand jury." He added: "I was disturbed by this. I was worried for myself, I was worried for my family. I felt menaced by this and I had to tell them all of the creepy things I had done."

After divorcing his first wife Michelle Cook in 1977, Letterman earned a reputation as a happy-go-lucky bachelor. But in 2003 he announced the impending birth of a baby boy to himself and his long-time girlfriend Regina Lasko. The couple, who began dating in the late 1980s, married in March this year. It is not known when Letterman's liaisons with his staff took place. Though he interviews politicians frequently, as well every other breed of celebrity, Letterman is not a public servant and to that extend may be off the hook. But few things are taken more seriously in America than bosses having sex with their employees – because it implies an abuse of power.

The district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, said Mr Halderman left the package outside Letterman's home in Manhattan at 6am on 9 September. It contained a proposal for a screenplay about the star's private life. The threatening letter spoke of the producer seeking a "large chunk of money" for the script and included warnings to the comedian that his world was "about to collapse around him".

Legal documents also emerged yesterday showing that Mr Halderman owed his ex-wife $6,000 a month in child support payments.

Mr Halderman apparently discovered details of the talk show host's indiscretions while in a relationship with Letterman's former assistant Stephanie Birkitt.

When that relationship ended, according to the website TMZ, he kept Ms Birkitt's diary, letters and photos to prove his allegations – evidence that will presumably now be used against him in court instead.

Great Letterman lines

*"Congratulations are in order for Woody Allen – he and Soon Yi have a brand-new baby daughter. It's all part of Woody's plan to grow his own wives."

* "Dick Cheney said he was running again. He said his health was fine, 'I've got a doctor with me 24 hours a day.' Yeah, that's always the sign of a man in good health, isn't it?"

*"I cannot sing, dance or act; what else would I be but a talk-show host?"

* "Don't forget it's daylight saving time. You spring forward, then you fall back. It's like Robert Downey Jr getting out of bed."

*"Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today? 1 Writing his memoirs of the Civil War. 2 Advising the President. 3 Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin."

* "The White House is giving George W Bush intelligence briefings. You know, some of these jokes just write themselves."

* "President Bush has been silent on Schwarzenegger. Of course, he can't pronounce Schwarzenegger."

* "We have defeated Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The good news is Iraq is ours, and the bad news is Iraq is ours."

Suggested Topics
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice