UPDATE: ‘NY Post’ Gossip Writer Probed in Burkle Extortion Plot

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A gossip writer for the New York Post has been suspended pending the outcome of a federal investigation into whether he tried to extort money from billionaire financier/possible newspaper investor Ron Burkle, the Post said Thursday.

Jared Paul Stern, who worked as a freelancer for the newspaper?s Page Six column, is suspected of demanding $100,000 and an annual $10,000 stipend from Burkle in exchange for not writing negative stories about him, the Post said in a story on its Web site.

Burkle’s Yucaipa company has lately joined forces with the Newspaper Guild in a serious effort to purchase some or all of the 12 Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers now on sale. Yucaipa also is known for its investments in supermarkets, including Food4Less, Dominick?s, Ralphs Grocery Co., Smith?s Food & Drug Stores and Fred Meyer.

Stern sometimes worked two days a week at the Post, its editor-in-chief, Col Allen, said in a statement.

?Should the allegations prove true, Mr. Stern?s conduct would be morally and journalistically reprehensible, a gross abuse of privilege, and in violation of the New York Post?s standards and ethics,? Allen said in the statement.

A spokeswoman for the Post, part of News Corp., declined to elaborate on the newspaper?s report. FBI spokeswoman Christine Monaco declined to comment.

The New York Times reports Friday that Burkle claims he has been the subject of false items in the gossip column.

In a statement, Burkle said that both he and his lawyers “have repeatedly written and or told the New York Post lawyers, editors and management that the articles and the items about him in Page Six are inaccurate but to no avail.”

There was no answer at a telephone number listed for a Jared Paul Stern in New York City; a message left at another number listed under that name in New York state was not immediately returned Thursday night.

Burkle, of California, is one of the world?s richest men, with an estimated personal wealth of more than $2 billion. He has been involved in a difficult divorce case.

Former President Clinton is a senior adviser to Yucaipa and Burkle has held numerous fund-raisers for both Bill and Hillary Clinton and other Demcorats.

A lawyer for Burkle said Thursday she wasn?t authorized to speak for him and referred calls to his company, The Yucaipa Cos. LLC, based in Los Angeles. A telephone message left at Yucaipa?s legal department after business hours wasn?t immediately returned.

Burkle’s representative later released the following statement on Friday:

“For more than a year, Mr. Burkle, his attorneys and other representatives have been complaining to New York
Post editors, management and attorneys about the inaccurate items that have appeared about him in the Post’s Page Six column.

“After his representatives’ pleas produced no results, Mr. Burkle wrote a personal letter to the Post’s owner Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Burkle has repeatedly said that he understands that a person might not always like what is written about him, but that his complaints were not about unflattering items, but false ones. Unfortunately, even his plea to Mr. Murdoch appeared to fall on deaf ears.

“Mr. Burkle said that while he has been asked not to discuss the details of Mr. Stern’s conversation with him — because of the ongoing investigation — he did say that the story in the NY Daily News (today) was accurate and that he was shocked angered and saddened by what he heard.

“‘Corporate governance is not just for the boardrooms,” Mr. Burkle said. ‘It is also important in the newsrooms. I am a big believer in the fourth estate. I feel strongly that honest, hardworking journalists make a major
contribution to a free society.'”

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