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Gossip reporter says he was set up

Says billionaire initiated discussion of investment in clothing company
/ Source: The Associated Press

A New York Post gossip writer accused of trying to extort money from a billionaire businessman for positive press coverage said Sunday he was set up.

The Post has suspended Jared Paul Stern, a freelancer for the newspaper’s Page Six gossip column, amid a federal investigation into the allegations.

Stern is suspected of demanding $100,000 and a monthly $10,000 stipend from Ron Burkle in exchange for not writing negative stories about him, the Post said.

The FBI has declined to comment on the case.

Stern told The Associated Press the businessman initiated discussions about payments about press coverage.

“He set it up through a middle man,” Stern said in a telephone interview. “He initiated discussions in a potential investment in my clothing company. That’s where the whole money issue originated.”

Burkle, who has an estimated personal wealth of more than $2 billion, is known for his investments in supermarkets, including Food4Less, Dominick’s and Ralphs Grocery Co.

Telephone messages left for a Burkle spokesman and at his company’s law department were not immediately returned Sunday. Burkle has said he and his lawyers repeatedly told the New York Post the articles about him in Page Six were inaccurate.

“Mr. Stern has been the victim of a smear campaign and expects to be fully exonerated and reinstated in his position,” said Stern’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina.

The Post’s editor in chief, Col Allen, said that if the extortion allegations are 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.”