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Claims Seagal Started FBI Probe Called 'Absurd'

Crime: Lawyers for former business partner accused of extortion say actor sought retaliation for $60-million lawsuit.

June 06, 2002|ANITA M. BUSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The attorney for action movie star Steven Seagal, whose former producing partner was indicted this week on extortion charges, on Wednesday denounced as "absurd" allegations that Seagal had initiated the investigation into Julius "Jules" R. Nasso as payback for filing a lawsuit against him.

Nasso, Seagal's friend and business partner for 15 years before their relationship disintegrated, was indicted Tuesday along with 16 others with alleged ties to the Gambino crime family.

Nasso, producer of such Seagal films as "Under Siege 2" and "On Deadly Ground," was charged with conspiracy to commit extortion and attempted extortion of a figure in the motion picture industry. Although not officially named in the indictment, Nasso's attorneys have said that the victim of the alleged extortion attempt was "definitely Seagal." Nasso's attorneys alleged that Seagal had a motive for approaching the FBI with a bogus story because he wanted to retaliate against Nasso.

In March, Nasso filed a $60-million lawsuit against Seagal for backing out of a promise to perform in four films.

On Wednesday, Seagal attorney Martin Pollner said he could not confirm that Seagal was the victim alluded to in the indictment, but he complained that Nasso's attorneys were trying to smear Seagal.

"The statements attributed in the press to representatives of Julius Nasso that Mr. Seagal approached the FBI, that Mr. Seagal took steps to 'retaliate' against Mr. Nasso for commencing a lawsuit and that Mr. Seagal has 'made up' allegations against Mr. Nasso are completely false," Pollner said in an interview.

According to Pollner, the three-year criminal investigation "is based on electronically intercepted conversations, including one in which Mr. Nasso was allegedly instructed to demand payments." He said "the attempts of Mr. Nasso's representatives to blame Mr. Seagal for Mr. Nasso's legal troubles are absurd."

Firing back, Nasso attorney Robert Hantman said Loeb & Loeb, the law firm representing Seagal, should not be commenting on the case because it represents not only Seagal but Nasso and their former production company.

"I find it presumptuous that Mr. Seagal's law firm ... would make those kind of statements without Mr. Nasso's permission and without hearing the tapes," Hantman said.

The alleged extortion attempt was caught on FBI wiretaps. The wiretaps recorded a conversation between Nasso and Gambino associate Anthony "Sonny" Ciccone in which Ciccone allegedly chastised Nasso for trying to share some of the extorted money with others without "prior approval."

In another conversation, Ciccone instructed Nasso to demand $150,000 per film, according to prosecutors.

Friends said Seagal, who was in Los Angeles on Wednesday, has been besieged by interview requests. Seagal would not comment.

Nasso, who was arrested Tuesday morning and arraigned later that day in a Brooklyn courtroom, was released on bail.

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