Saturday, September 29, 2007

Man charged in Tom Cruise extortion plot found dead

Authorities believe that David Hans Schmidt, a broker in celebrity photos and other items who was known as 'The Sultan of Sleaze,' committed suicide.

David Hans SchmidtDavid Hans Schmidt
By Rene Lynch
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

3:09 PM PDT, September 29, 2007

A celebrity photo broker facing federal prison for trying to extort more than $1 million from Tom Cruise and wife Katie Holmes has been found dead, an apparent suicide.

David Hans Schmidt specialized in acquiring celebrity sex videos and nude photos -- a specialty that earned him the nickname "The Sultan of Sleaze," a moniker he wore like a badge of honor. But he also readily marketed other celebrity goods, such as Paris Hilton's diaries, in which she reportedly recounts sexual escapades.

Schmidt had long denied claims that he came by his merchandise through unscrupulous means. But earlier this year he agreed to plead guilty to attempted extortion after federal authorities said he contacted Cruise's representatives and threatened to release photos of Cruise and Holmes' wedding in Italy last year unless he was paid $1.2 million to $1.3 million.

At the time of his death, Schmidt was wearing a monitoring device while under house arrest in Arizona pending sentencing. He was found dead in his townhouse about 3 p.m. Friday after police noticed that the device indicated he not moved and he had not checked in, law enforcement officials told the Associated Press.

His attorney, Nancy Kardon, told AP that she had spoken to Schmidt earlier this week and was preparing for an Oct. 11 hearing in federal court where he would formally enter his plea. She said she had planned to ask for probation.

"I was greatly saddened by his loss and I found him to be a very kind man," Kardon said.

Among other items Schmidt purported to have obtained:

* Explicit photographs he said were found in the Dumpster at Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx's Las Vegas home.

* Hilton's sex diaries, which along with other personal items had been discovered in a Los Angeles-area storage locker. (A Hilton spokesman said at the time that the items were illegally obtained.)

* A homemade sex tape starring Colin Farrell and former Playboy playmate Nicole Narain.

* A sex tape involving Fred Durst, lead singer of Limp Bizkit.

* Nude pictures of Amber Frey, the key prosecution witness in the Scott Peterson double-murder trial.

* Nude photos of rescued U.S. Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch. (The photos were offered up to Larry Flynt for publication in his Hustler magazine, but he ultimately declined to publish them.)

Schmidt did not shy away from the sordid. Although some called what he did unscrupulous, he relished it.

"Somebody has to make the deals," he would say.

When discussing the Colin Farrell sex tape, for example, Schmidt gleefully described its contents, offering details that couldn't be printed in this newspaper, and was matter of fact about how he intended to exploit the tape for his personal enrichment. Farrell later sought legal action to block the tape's release, and shortly thereafter the tape ended up on the Internet, dramatically undercutting its worth. Schmidt insisted that he had nothing to do with the tape's release.

There were some suggestions, though, that Schmidt also craved acceptance from some of the people he was seemingly trying to exploit.

When it came to the photos a worker reportedly found on Foxx's property, Schmidt agreed to return them -- if he could get a face-to-face meeting with the actor.

"He wanted to shake hands with Jamie Foxx, and I said that would not occur," celebrity attorney Martin D. Singer recalled at the time. The photos were nonetheless returned.

Schmidt was also willing to make a sex tape himself. He was in negotiations at one point to help produce and distribute a sex tape co-starring him and 1991 Mrs. America Jill Scott. "Jill looks great, we both work out every day, and I think this gives the fortysomething crowd a little hope for eternal youth," Schmidt said at the time.

Tall and buff from those strenuous weight-and-swimming workouts, Schmidt was a name dropper who boasted of personal relationships with the likes of Hustler's Flynt; Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione; Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio; and Joe Garagiola Jr., general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. (Arpaio had a particularly unusual relationship with Schmidt, having been his jailer -- Schmidt spent time behind bars in Arizona as part of an extended custody battle with the mother of his daughters Kelsey and Kassidy.)

Schmidt was a Rochester, Minn., native who attended Augsberg College before relocating to Arizona, where he worked briefly as a newspaper reporter and would later become press secretary to then-Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham. Schmidt's second career began in 1992, when Gennifer Flowers sold her story about her relationship with Bill Clinton to the Star tabloid. Schmidt took the initiative to contact Flowers through her attorney and subsequently negotiated a deal for her to pose in Penthouse.

Tom Cruise

A second man still faces charges in connection with the Tom Cruise extortion plot. Computer expert Marc Lewis Gittleman, 33, of Los Angeles allegedly took the pictures when he worked on a computer belonging to the wedding's authorized photographer. Gittleman reportedly made a copy of the hard drive and later brought them to Schmidt.