The Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided not to charge Mel Gibson's ex-girlfriend with extortion over the objections of the lead investigator, who concluded that a demand by her attorneys for $20 million in exchange for damaging recordings and photos merited prosecution, according to a document reviewed by The Times.
In a letter sent Thursday to the prosecutor who declined to file charges, Det. Rodney Wagner of the Sheriff's Department stated his view that the department's six-month investigation turned up evidence of "implied threats" against the actor by Oksana Grigorieva and her lawyers.
He wrote that he found support for three separate extortion charges in Grigorieva's e-mails to Gibson and in a March 2010 meeting in which her lawyers, Eric George and Sonia Y. Lee, talked with Gibson's representatives about how disclosure of the tapes and photos would "ruin" his career.
"By discussing the potential damage to Mr. Gibson's career if the 'evidence' were to be released to the public … it was my opinion, that constituted an implied threat," Wagner wrote.
George, who was Grigorieva's lead attorney in the negotiations, is the son of the state's former chief justice and a campaign fundraiser for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. He hosted a $500-per-person cocktail party at his Beverly Hills home in August for Cooley's unsuccessful race for attorney general and donated $6,500 to his campaign. He declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, Jane Robison, said Cooley had no role in determining whether to bring charges in the Gibson case and downplayed Wagner's letter as "his opinion."
"He's not an attorney. Our attorneys reviewed the case and declined to file based on the evidence and the lack of evidence," Robison said.
Grigorieva's current attorney, Daniel Horowitz, said Wagner had mistaken bare-knuckles legal negotiations for a crime.
"Lawyering is a very tough business," he said.
Gibson eventually agreed to a $15-million settlement with Grigorieva, but she backed out of the deal and the now infamous tapes of his racist rants were leaked online and followed in short order by photos of injuries she said she suffered when the actor punched her. Gibson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery March 11, the same day a prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Simone Shay, filled out a charge evaluation worksheet saying she found "insufficient evidence" to charge Grigorieva.
In his letter, Wagner wrote that at a February meeting with Shay's supervisor, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lynch, and another prosecutor, they talked about the conduct of the lawyers. Both of Gibson's lawyers and Lee had told him in separate interviews that the subject of damage to Gibson's career was raised at the March 2010 meeting, but George said there were no such discussions, Wagner wrote. "I clearly stated it was my opinion the crime of attempted extortion was committed" during the meeting, he wrote.
He said Lynch told him "he wanted a direct threat, not implied threat" and the other supervisor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Barbara Turner, compared the legal discussions to auto insurance companies negotiating over an accident payout.
"I stated the difference in this case is one party was accusing the other of a crime and wanted money not to expose it," Wagner wrote. But Lynch was unwavering, according to the letter.
"Mr. Lynch stated that he believed Ms. Grigorieva was in fact trying to get money from Mr. Gibson, however he was not sure if a jury would come to that same conclusion. To that, I disagreed with him," he said.
Lynch, who retired the same day Wagner sent the letter, did not return calls seeking comment. Lee, in an interview with The Times, disputed the letter's assertion that she had discussed Gibson's career with his lawyers, but declined to comment otherwise.