Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Yoko Ono's former chauffeur denies extortion charges

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Yoko Ono's chauffeur was so stressed by his job that eight of his teeth fell out because he was grinding them at night, according to court papers filed by his lawyer.

The chauffeur, Koral Karsan, 50, complained about his teeth in a taped conversation with Ono's lawyer, Jonas Herbsman, which the prosecution turned over to Karsan's lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, in advance of a bail hearing on Friday.

Karsan has been charged with trying to extort US$2 million from Ono, and prosecutors said he threatened to kill her if she did not comply.

But in court papers submitted as part of a bail application for Karsan, Gottlieb said the accusation that Karsan had people waiting to kill Ono was "just plain false."

On the recording, Gottlieb said that Karsan can be heard saying that there are "a lot of people out there who want to get" Ono, an artist and musician who is the widow of the Beatle John Lennon.

The chauffeur then went on to describe those people as "my psychiatrist, my dentist, my lawyer," Gottlieb said.

Karsan added, according to his lawyer, that "they're all Beatles fans and they hate her. So they all want to use me."

Gottlieb said that the tape showed that the demand for money was not extortion, but a demand for compensation for pain and suffering.

Prosecutors have described this audio tape as one of their most important pieces of evidence -- along with a letter from Karsan to Ono -- in the extortion case against Karsan.

But Gottlieb said that the only reference to killing came when Ono's lawyer asked for the name of Karsan's lawyer, and Karsan refused, saying that his legal team was "ready to kill Yoko."

To which Ono's lawyer asked if he was speaking metaphorically. Karsan, a Turkish immigrant, replied, "No, no, no, no metaphorically, I'm telling it literally." By this, Gottlieb said, Karsan clearly meant that his lawyers "would literally kill her in court."

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney, declined comment on Friday night on Gottlieb's account of the tape.

Gottlieb quoted from the tape in a letter to Justice Daniel FitzGerald of the trial-level state Supreme Court in Manhattan, in an effort to have his client released on bail.

In a brief hearing on Friday, FitzGerald declined to set bail because of the risk that Karsan would flee to Turkey.

He said that after listening to the tape, he saw "no substantial change in the material facts," that is, the demand for US$2 million and the threat to release confidential information about Ono. But he agreed to Gottlieb's request for a speedy trial, setting a tentative trial date of Feb. 12.

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