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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Transcripts Detail Alleged Extortion Plot Against Brockovich

Crime: Documents on phone calls are released. Evidence also includes copies of contracts and checks. Defense says it was a legitimate business negotiation.

September 14, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after Erin Brockovich's ex-husband and former boyfriend were ordered to stand trial on extortion charges, court officials released transcripts of tape-recorded phone calls in which the men promised not to reveal damaging information about the real-life movie heroine in exchange for $310,000.

The documents also include copies of typed contracts and six-figure checks that were among the core prosecution evidence presented at a preliminary hearing in Ventura County Superior Court this week.

Ex-husband Shawn Brown, 38, ex-boyfriend Jorg Halaby, 46, and attorney John Reiner, 52, are accused of trying to blackmail Brockovich and her lawyer boss, Ed Masry.

The three men allegedly threatened to go to the tabloid press with allegations that Brockovich was an unfit mother who had a sexual affair with Masry while working as his legal aide. They have denied ever having an affair.

Masry testified that he spoke with investigators in the Ventura County district attorney's office after Reiner allegedly demanded hush money for his clients.

The documents released Wednesday include a transcript of a subsequent April 14 phone call between Masry and Reiner in which Masry raises the issue of a $200,000 pay-off.

"What are we going to get for the two hundred?" Masry asks during the call, which was tape-recorded by investigators.

"Uh, the answer to your question," Reiner responds, according to the transcript, "is it permanently stifles [Brown] from saying anything derogatory about Erin."

Later, Reiner states: "I mean I'm talking to you about a situation in which Shawn can say some really damaging things about Erin, which he assures me are true."

Court records show that Reiner says Brown was upset by how he was depicted in the hit movie "Erin Brockovich" and wants some compensation.

The movie starring Julia Roberts tells the story of a twice-divorced mother of three who helps win a $333-million settlement from Pacific Gas & Electric for residents whose ground water was contaminated with the carcinogen chromium 6.

Reiner states in the transcript that Masry is "riding high" after the movie's release and wouldn't want a lot of negative facts about Brockovich's personal life revealed.

"I've heard a lot of really ugly things that I'm not going to repeat on the phone," Reiner states, according to the documents, "and I don't know if they're true. But they're gonna be said."

Reiner, Brown and Halaby later sent Masry contracts requesting $310,000 in exchange for their silence, records show.

The three defendants were arrested on charges of attempted extortion and conspiracy after a two-month investigation, which ended when they were observed on a hidden camera receiving checks for $310,000 from Masry and Brockovich.

During the preliminary hearing, defense attorneys argued that Masry concocted blackmail allegations to ruin the credibility of Brown and Halaby if they were called as witnesses in an unrelated lawsuit.

They also suggested the deal was legitimate and that Masry has a personal vendetta against Halaby and Brown, whom he has known for several years.

Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger ordered the men to stand trial on the charges. He also granted a request by the Associated Press to unseal the confidential records, which were made available for the first time Wednesday.

The defendants remain free on bail and are scheduled to appear in court next month for a second arraignment on the charges.

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