NEW YORK — After a season in the limelight as a suspected extortionist, a former gossip columnist said Wednesday that he was relieved he wouldn't face federal charges of demanding payments in return for favorable coverage, and vowed to sue Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle and the New York Daily News for spreading the stories that ruined his career.
Jared Paul Stern, a longtime contributor to the New York Post's Page Six gossip column, was reportedly under federal investigation because he allegedly tried to extort money from Burkle to stop negative reports about the supermarket magnate and his personal affairs.
Burkle has said he taped Stern demanding $100,000 up front and a $10,000 monthly stipend; the allegation became a tabloid sensation last spring in the clubby milieu of Manhattan media, where sometimes the worst publicity is no publicity.
"It was all speculation; it was defamation; it was gossip," Stern said. "There were no charges to be dropped because there were no charges."
The U.S. attorney's office in New York would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, but Stern's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said: "I have been informed by the U.S. attorney's office that they are not proceeding with any case against Mr. Stern.
"We have said from Day 1 that this was a campaign to spread lies based on false accusations fueled by Burkle's personal vendetta against the New York Post, and that there was never any evidence of wrongdoing on Mr. Stern's part," Tacopina said.
Stern said that the publicity, fueled by the rivalry between the Daily News and the Post, had damaged his reputation and cost him his job. He is working on a memoir about the business of gossip for Simon & Schuster.
"I am still unemployed," Stern said. "I will be launching legal action to get restitution and hopefully make some repairs to my reputation. Who will I sue? Burkle is No. 1; maybe the Daily News and other parties to be named later."
Michael Sitrick, a spokesman for Burkle, said in a statement that "the facts speak very clearly for themselves, as media reports on the contents of the tapes have demonstrated."
To make a case against Stern, Burkle had complied with government instructions, his spokesman said.
"Mr. Burkle followed the government's instructions from the onset: From their directive that he record and they monitor the second meeting Mr. Stern had with him -- where Mr. Stern repeated his request that Mr. Burkle pay him $100,000 up front ... in exchange for Mr. Stern's 'efforts' to stop the publication of false reports," Sitrick said.