Talk show host 'paid blackmail maid £2m'

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The Independent US

Rush Limbaugh, the American conservative talk show host being investigated for his self-confessed addiction to pain-killing pills, was the victim not only of severe back pain but of a former maid who "bled him dry" through blackmail, his lawyers say.

The maid and her husband, Wilma and David Cline, extracted $4m (£2.26m) from Mr Limbaugh in return for keeping silent about the pills, his lawyers told a Florida judge. Mr Limbaugh has been struggling to keep his talk show career on track since the revelations of his addiction surfaced in October.

No charges have been brought against Mr Limbaugh, who for years has been a pivotal influence on the political scene with his brand of often self-righteous conservatism. But he is being investigated for possible illegal buying of the pills as well as money laundering.

"It's not money laundering to pay blackmail and extortion," Roy Black, one of Mr Limbaugh's lawyers, said at the hearing in Fort Lauderdale. He said Mr Limbaugh, who went off the air for five weeks in October to enter a drug rehabilitation centre, could not tell the police of the blackmail for fear he would be investigated. Mr Black said the radio star suffered from extreme back pain caused by collapsed discs in the spine. He was faced with a choice of invasive surgery through the throat, which could compromise his voice and therefore his career, or taking the drugs.

Prosecutors are investigating how Mr Limbaugh acquired the pills, which included the narcotic drug oxycontin. They told the judge he had bought as many as 2,000 of the tablets through four doctors. If the doctors were kept in the dark about the prescriptions that the others had written, that would be a crime in Florida punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Clines sold the story to The National Enquirer, which prompted the investigation. They received immunity from prosecution. Their lawyer denied the blackmail claim.