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A look at secret negotiations in Mel Gibson case as detectives wrap investigation

As investigators give D.A. the results of their inquiry into alleged extortion, a Times review of e-mails, texts and documents reveals secret negotiations in the case. Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigorieva discussed reconciliation even as lawyers were fighting over settlement terms.

February 17, 2011|By Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times
  • Actor Mel Gibson and singer Oksana Grigorieva appear at the premiere of the film "Edge of Darkness" in Madrid.
Actor Mel Gibson and singer Oksana Grigorieva appear at the premiere of… (Juan Medina / Reuters )

Mel Gibson's entertainment attorney was summoned to a meeting 11 months ago in Century City and presented with two troubling pieces of information: The movie star's estranged girlfriend had secretly recorded him in a series of vulgar, racist rants, and she wanted $20 million.

Attorneys for the woman, Oksana Grigorieva, a Russian musician and the mother of Gibson's daughter, played excerpts of the recordings. Notes made by the actor's attorney suggested her lawyers wanted to resolve the couple's differences confidentially and keep the tapes private: "Never should become public. Devastating to everyone — including baby."

Whether that encounter was part of an extortion plot or just hardball legal negotiation is a question for Los Angeles County prosecutors, according to Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. Detectives handed their findings to the district attorney's office Wednesday, he said. Prosecutors will evaluate that evidence at the same time that they weigh domestic violence allegations against Gibson.

Materials reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, including e-mails, text messages, attorneys' notes and legal papers, provide a rare in-depth look at secret negotiations in a case that has obsessed the tabloids, prompted a six-month sheriff's investigation and taken up countless hours of court time. The unraveling of these high-stakes backroom talks led to one of Hollywood's ugliest splits and, with the leak of the tapes online, the derailing of Gibson's attempt at a comeback following a 2006 drunk driving arrest during which he spewed anti-Semitic insults.

The documents describe a period in which the former lovers discussed reconciliation even as their lawyers sparred over the details of a settlement that would include destruction of the tapes.

"You don't call. You don't accept my invitation to come. You hand tapes around & jeopardize us all," Gibson texted the same day his lawyers proposed a deal they valued at $18 million.

She replied that Gibson had promised to care for her and their daughter "in the most generous way."

"I wouldn't have played ur messages if u were keeping ur word," she wrote.

Last May, they reached a $16-million agreement. Grigorieva subsequently repudiated it, saying she had signed under duress. The case is now in family court, where the judge has urged the sides not to speak publicly after months of leaks from the sealed case to gossip sites. Attorneys contacted by The Times declined to comment or did not return calls.

Grigorieva and Gibson began dating three years ago while he was still married to his wife, Robyn, who filed for divorce after Grigorieva's pregnancy become public. The singer already had a child with actor Timothy Dalton.

Last February, Grigorieva sought a lawyer after Gibson told her she needed representation because he was preparing to add the baby, Lucia, to his estate plan, according to two people familiar with the situation. The singer was not entitled to any of the actor's fortune under the terms of a 2009 cohabitation agreement that said she would get only a year's free rent in a Sherman Oaks home Gibson owned and a Dodge Charger if they split.

The tapes and pictures she brought to her attorney, Eric George, suggested that Lucia's trust fund was not the only issue. Grigorieva had photos of broken teeth from a January incident in which she said Gibson punched her twice and brandished a gun. The now-infamous tapes captured Gibson's anger and bigotry and a potential admission to assault when he told her, "You deserved it."

George was no stranger to high-profile matters. The son of the state's former chief justice, George had represented Michael Jackson's ex-wife in custody negotiations. He told Grigorieva that he was prepared to draw up a lawsuit against Gibson but that his plan was to resolve the matter "very quickly, through negotiation."

"It is my aim to do so — and you share this aim — in such a manner as to ensure complete confidentiality, absolutely no press coverage and a principled way of handling such that you and MG may, should you wish, maintain a relationship together," he wrote in a retainer letter. He explained that his firm and the attorney who had referred her to him, Joseph Cotchett, would each get a 5% contingency fee.

Before Grigorieva officially hired George, the lawyer discussed making a $20-million demand, according to e-mails they exchanged. The singer instructed him not to reveal a dollar figure to Gibson's lawyers right away. "I'm just really fearful that would turn him angry and will end this" relationship, she wrote.

George agreed but added, "If his proposal is completely absurd, I'll offer my opinion that it's unrealistic, as I don't want to create any false impression u can be bought off for pennies."

Five days later, George met with Gibson's estate planning attorney, Michele Mulrooney. Her notes indicate that the conversation was vague when it came to what evidence Grigorieva had and how much money she wanted.

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