NEW YORK — The former CBS television producer who tried to shake down David Letterman over the comic icon's office affairs started a six-month jail sentence Tuesday, closing a case that opened Letterman's behind-the-scenes behavior to public scrutiny.
Carrying a Bible to a court date he knew would end in time behind bars, Robert "Joe" Halderman declined to speak before he was led from a Manhattan court in handcuffs to begin his jail term, to be followed by 1,000 hours of community service. He agreed to both when he pleaded guilty in March to attempted grand larceny.
Letterman wasn't on hand for Halderman's sentencing Tuesday, and a spokesman for him declined to comment afterward. But throughout the six-month saga, Letterman made himself a presence in the case, if not the courtroom.
He revealed the blackmail plot – and the workplace dalliances at the heart of it – before prosecutors unveiled the case. He dispatched his lawyers to many of Halderman's court appearances with statements in hand for the press, and Letterman himself commented during a TV appearance last week on the toll the disclosures had taken on his personal life.
Halderman, 52, admitted in March that he demanded $2 million in hush money last fall to keep from revealing personal information about Letterman. Halderman buttressed the threat with information he'd culled from peeking at a former girlfriend's diary, which described a relationship with Letterman, her boss, officials have said.
Besides being stung by jealousy, Halderman also was under financial pressure, his lawyer has said. Lawyers for Halderman's ex-wife have said in court papers that he was struggling with money in the aftermath of their divorce, and Halderman told a Letterman lawyer in a secretly taped conversation that he needed money to visit his son.
"Obviously, it was a very difficult part of his life," Halderman's lawyer, Gerald Shargel, said Tuesday, adding that Halderman made no excuses for his conduct.
Halderman said when he pleaded guilty that he felt "great remorse" for the scheme.
The case spurred Letterman to disclose on-air that he'd had sex with women on his staff, stunning viewers, stripping away his well-guarded privacy and initially tarnishing his good-guy image.
Viewers have stuck with Letterman, whose show averages 4 million viewers this season, up 3 percent over last season, according to the Nielsen Co. Letterman didn't have to compete against Jay Leno for several months this season.
But the scandal dealt Letterman an emotional blow. "You take a look at the explosion, and it knocks you down," he said Friday on "Live! With Regis and Kelly."
Letterman married longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko last year. They have a 6-year-old son.
Halderman, who was a producer at CBS' "48 Hours Mystery," no longer has his job there. The network, which also hosts Letterman's show, has declined to say whether he quit or was fired. Shargel declined to discuss whether Halderman has been working or elaborate on his career plans after his release.
During a decades-long television career, Halderman has been nominated for Emmy Awards for work on pieces on such issues as the siege of Sarajevo and a bloody assault on a Russian school. He was hit by rubber bullets during a demonstration in Argentina while working for CNN in the early 1980s.
"He's been to all the hot spots in the world – I think he can handle Rikers Island," Shargel said, referring to the city's main jail complex.
With time off for good behavior, Halderman could be released in four months. Under his plea agreement, his community service will entail providing job training to formerly homeless people and convicts getting out of prison.