An online gossip site paid $165,000 to a witness in the O.J. Simpson armed robbery case for a copy of an audiotape the man surreptitiously made during last year's bizarre confrontation in a Las Vegas hotel room.
Memorabilia dealer Thomas Riccio scored the checkbook journalism windfall from TMZ.com last September, days after Simpson and a small posse confronted two businessmen inside the Palace Station hotel, according to sources familiar with the terms of the confidential deal. The tape, which Riccio turned over to prosecutors after selling a copy to TMZ, captured the loud encounter between Simpson & Co. and Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong, the collectibles dealers whom the athlete accused of stealing (and trying to sell) some of his personal belongings.
Riccio, who orchestrated the Palace Station meeting, used a digital recorder to memorialize the confrontation, and then immediately contacted TMZ to negotiate a sale of the audio evidence. While he initially sought $2 million, Riccio settled for the six-figure payout, which is still likely the largest sum paid by a gossip site for a story. In its original report about the tape, TMZ stated that it had "obtained" the recordings, avoiding any mention that their procurement was secured by a $165,000 check delivered to Riccio's Los Angeles home.