It’s A Stick-Up, Stick-Up: Celebs Who Were Victims Of Extortion Or Blackmail
Rapper Biggie Smalls said it best: “Mo money, mo problems.” With their high-profile careers and million dollar paychecks, these celebs were easy targets for extortion and blackmail. Here are the stories behind the opportunists who tried to get them for all they’re worth.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the wealthiest women in the world making her an obvious target for blackmail. She found herself a victim of such a several years ago when Keifer Bonvillain came out of the blue saying he was in possession of hours worth of private conversations with a Chicago-based business associate that could potentially ruin the talk show mogul’s career. Never one to back down, Winfrey refused to give in to his $1.5 million demand. Instead she contacted the authorities, who were able to foil the plot and arrest Bonvillian.
One of the most joyous times in a person’s life is on his or her wedding day but Tom Cruise did not want the day he married third wife Katie Holmes shared with the public. After stealing their wedding picture, Marc Lewis Gittleman approached the Mission Impossible star with the stolen picture and demanded $1.3 million for it. Instead of cashing in on a payday, Gittleman was sentenced to two years probation and fined $3,000. Before he could pay the fine, Gittleman took his own life.
Bill Cosby is one of America’s favorite dads, but one woman claimed the famous comedian was her real life dad. In 1998, a 23-year-old Autumn Jackson tried to extort $40 million from Cosby in exchange for not telling the media she was his illegitimate daughter. Although Cosby had an affair with Jackson’s mother years ago and gave them over $100,000 in support throughout the years, he denied paternity. Jackson was found guilty of extortion and sentenced to five years in prison. She was briefly released when an appeals court overturned the conviction before reversing the appeal and sending Jackson back to jail.
Former supermodel Cindy Crawford and her husband Rande Gerber learned the hard way to never pay off an extortionist. In 2009 a German model contacted the wealthy couple saying he had a photo of their seven-year-old daughter tied up in . The nanny, who was playing a game of cops and robbers with Kaia, took the photo. Edris Kayalar, the nanny’s boyfriend, stole the photo and contacted the couple. Gerber agreed to pay Kayalar $1000 but when he returned two days later looking for more money, they contacted the police. Kayalar was picked up and deported back to his home country because he was in the U.S. illegally.
Back in 2009, a couple approached actor John Stamos looking for a six-figure payday. Saying they were in possession of compromising photos of the 80’s heartthrob that were taken at a Florida party in 2004, Allison Coss and Scott Sippola demanded $700,000 from Stamos. Instead of forking over the money, the “Full House” star contacted the authorities. Although the FBI failed to find the incriminating photos of Stamos allegedly snorting coke during a search of their home and vehicles, the duo was charged and convicted of trying to extort Stamos.
Before she was a Hollywood A-lister, Cameron Diaz was an aspiring model. Back when she was 19, the future Charlie’s Angles star took part in a topless photo shoot. The photos were never released and photographer John Rutter was prohibited from using the photos of her decked out in leather boots and fishnet stockings, but once Diaz became famous, he wanted to finally cash in. Threatening to publish the topless pictures, Rutter demanded $2 million. The disgraced photographer was found guilty of attempted grand theft, forgery, and perjury and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Plenty of people have become victims of theft but in the case of Adrienne Bailon, she learned a valuable lesson in blackmail. A thief snatched her laptop at an airport then contacted the former Disney star’s record label a few days later. He wanted to shake her down for a whopping $10,000 in exchange for nude photos found on her laptop. Instead of paying up, Bailon turned the tables around and sued the thief, saying the photos were private and were only intended for her boyfriend.
David Letterman held a cushy job as one of the kings of late night television but an ex-television producer almost ruined his image. Robert Halderman threatened to expose Letterman’s dalliances with several women if he wasn’t paid $2 million in hush money. Instead of paying, Letterman contacted authorities and publicly came clean about the affairs, one of them with Halderman’s ex-girlfriend. The former “48 Hours” producer plead guilty of attempted grand larceny and served four months in prison. Unscathed by the scandal, Letterman married his longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko.
In 2009, tragedy struck John Travolta’s family. His 16-year-old son Jett passed away suddenly while the family was on vacation in the Bahamas. Already grieving over the loss, things went from tragic to criminal for Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston after paramedic Tarino Lightbourne accused the Pulp Fiction actor of intentionally killing their son. Lightbourne, who was one of the medics who treated Jett, demanded $25 million to not go to the press with a document signed by Travolta that released the paramedics from having to take his son to the hospital. Travolta preferred to have his son treated in the U.S. instead. The case ended in mistrial.
Actor Rob Lowe and his wife did what many Hollywood couples do and hired a nanny to look after their children. But instead of watching their children, the nanny tried to blackmail the couple. Laura Boyce threatened to accuse the “Parks & Recreational” actor of sexual harassment if they didn’t give her $1.5 million. Instead of falling victim, Lowe sued Boyce for revealing private details about himself and his wife. A judge agreed with the actor and ruled in his favor saying Boyce breached a confidentiality agreement she first signed when she was hired to work for the couple.
Steven Seagal has a seventh degree black belt in Aikido but that didn’t stop one of his producers from trying to squeeze the action star dry. With alleged backing from a powerful mob family, Julius Nasso demanded an undisclosed amount from Seagal. After authorities were contacted, Nasso agreed to a plea deal on the extortion charges but he also sued the Under Siege star for a breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled out of court after Seagal agreed to pay Nasso a reported $500,000.
Kiss bassist and vocalist Gene Simmons was probably one of the last celebrities to have a sex tape leaked to the public. That is until 2008. A group approached Simmons with a sex tape featuring him and an Austrian energy drink spokesmodel. The video was eventually leaked online. In response, Simmons released a statement on his website about the shakedown: “You should know for the record, the garbage was recorded without my knowledge and is a page from my past. It happened and there’s nothing I can do to repair that. The black-and-white footage may have been decades old. The entity behind the garbage has repeatedly tried to make money off of this and we have always refused. This is not the first time the entity has tried to blackmail and extort us. We have always refused and we will continue to refuse.”
Louie Anderson was a victim of blackmail twice. Back in 1993, the portly comedian allegedly propositioned a man for sex at a Las Vegas casino. Realizing the golden opportunity in front of him, Richard John Gordon threatened to go to the press unless Anderson, who was on two shows on television at that time (“Family Feud” and “Life With Louie), paid him $100,000. Not wanting any bad press, Anderson gladly paid but seven years later when Gordon came calling again looking for $250,000, Anderson decided to call the cops. Gordon was convicted and sentenced to prison.
Things seem to have gone from bad to worse for Paula Deen. After transcripts of her deposition confessing to using the “N-word” were released, the Queen of Butter’s food empire began to crumble. Deen ended up losing her show on the Food Network as well as deals and sponsorships from several companies, including Walmart, Smithfield and Home Depot. Sensing blood in the water, New York native Thomas Paculis emailed Deen’s lawyer last week, demanding $250,000 in exchange for not going to the press with evidence confirming Deen’s use of the “N-word” during business practices. Deen’s lawyer immediately went to the authorities. Paculis was arrested by the FBI and has been released on bond.
While other celebrities have to worry about strangers or former business associates looking to take advantage and cash in, Regis Philbin’s own family member tried to extort him. In 2009, Philbin’s former daughter-in-law Judy Philbin threatened to kill the former legendary daytime television talk show host unless he gave her money for drugs. Philbin’s wheelchair bound son Danny went to the police and got a restraining order against Judy saying he was also fearful of his life. She denied the allegations.