'Party Boy' Financier Undercover for FBI!
Saturday, April 8, 2006
The billionaire wanted to find a way to stop becoming tabloid fodder. A meeting was called. A deal was proffered. And a hidden FBI camera was rolling.
In a city that thrives on gossip of the rawest and juiciest variety, there was one more delicious twist: The target of the undercover sting was a writer for the New York Post's Page Six, the dishiest repository of tawdry tales about boldfaced names.
The federal probe unearthed evidence alleging that gossip peddler Jared Paul Stern solicited $220,000 from a man the Post had dubbed a "party-boy billionaire" in exchange for immunity from negative items, the paper confirmed yesterday. And in a "Sopranos"-like twist, Stern likened the protection he was offering to a "Mafia" racket.
That the seamy story about Rupert Murdoch's New York Post was cracked open by Mort Zuckerman's Daily News, which competes with the Post for straphanger readers as well as celebrity news, merely added to the mounting Manhattan buzz. If the allegations are true, Post Editor in Chief Col Allan said in a statement, "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."
The rival paper was shocked -- and loving every second of it.
"In 35 years, I can't recall anything quite like this," Martin Dunn, the Daily News's editor in chief, said yesterday. "I know journalists over the years might get a bottle of scotch from someone, but I've never known it the other way around, where someone says, 'I can control accurate and inaccurate stories in return for a huge amount of money.' It's the most extraordinary thing."
Stern, who did not respond to messages left on his office phone yesterday, told the Daily News the shakedown allegations are "completely outrageous."
Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the New York Post, said an assistant U.S. attorney briefed a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., the paper's parent company, on the allegations Thursday. He said the prosecutor explained that Stern had been "asking for $100,000 up front to not print bad articles and to print good items," and for $10,000 a month after the initial down payment.
Rubenstein said Post staff members were "appalled" and that the paper has agreed to a request from prosecutors to preserve Stern's records and computer hard drive.
Perhaps no city is as addicted to the guilty pleasures of gossip as New York, home of Liz Smith and Cindy Adams, of People and Us Weekly and Vanity Fair. It is a place where each tabloid fields several columnists who work the downtown clubs and the midtown media offices and the power tables at Michael's restaurant, along with scribes from various magazines and Web sites such as Gawker.com, all searching for titillating tidbits about the rich, famous and merely bizarre.
At the center of the probe is Stern, 36, a dapper partygoer known for his fedora and Ralph Lauren suits who markets his own line of clothing online, such as a $95 Kelly green polo shirt with a hot-pink skull-and-crossbones logo.
Andrew Parker, who sells Stern's T-shirts and ties at his Madison Avenue clothing store, called Stern "very affable, always very dapper and elegant. . . . Everyone's shocked. He's probably one of the last guys you'd expect" to get into trouble.