Budget cuts slow extortion probe in Mel Gibson case

Budget cuts have slowed the investigation into whether actor Mel Gibson was the victim of an extortion plot, and it's unclear whether the probe by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies will be completed by the end of the year.

"We are sifting through all the evidence. We are weeks away from completing the investigation," said Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.

Whitmore said overtime limits imposed on sheriff's staff because of budget cuts have slowed the process.

In an L.A. courtroom Monday, the Academy Award-winning film director and his former lover Oksana Grigorieva went behind closed doors for the latest round in the bitter custody dispute over their year-old daughter, Lucia.

But for months, the Sheriff's Department has also been investigating allegations that Gibson hit Grigorieva and that someone tried to extort money from Gibson.

The Los Angeles district attorney's office is considering whether to file domestic violence charges related to an alleged attack by the actor-director. Sheriff's detectives completed that investigation in October.

But sources have told The Times that prosecutors won't make a decision on that case until the Sheriff's Department has finished its inquiry into claims that Grigorieva or someone close to her attempted to extort money from Gibson.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, said the cases are heavily intertwined.

The evidence downloaded from Grigorieva's phone and computer by sheriff's forensic experts had to be converted from raw data into a readable form with the help of an outside contractor, according to sources.

Many of the questions center around the leaking of recordings of Gibson using a racial slur and abusive language during several telephone calls with his former girlfriend. In a recent interview on "Larry King Live," Grigorieva described Gibson as "crazy" and said she might have stayed in the relationship too long.


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