Published Monday, Sept. 22, 2008 | 1:05 p.m.
Updated Monday, Sept. 22, 2008 | 11:53 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
O.J. Simpson told one of his companions to "put the guns away," when Simpson and his entourage had a run-in with two collectibles dealers on Sept. 13, 2007, at a Las Vegas hotel, a witness in Simpson's robbery/kidnapping trial testified Monday afternoon.
Also, another prosecution witness — a collectibles dealer who was on the witness stand for three days — revealed he had personally made $210,000 as a result of his involvement with the case.
Those were two highlights today in Simpson's high-profile trial, which began its second week at the Clark County Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas.
This afternoon, prosecutors called Charles Ehrlich as their eleventh witness. Ehrlich was one of the five men who accompanied Simpson and his co-accused, Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, when they raided a Palace Station hotel room and allegedly stole a range of memorabilia.
While Simpson and Stewart now face 12 robbery, kidnapping and weapons-related charges, Ehrlich and the others have accepted plea bargains and will testify against the accused.
Ehrlich has plead guilty to being an accessory to attempted robbery and attempted burglary. Judge Glass will deliver his sentence at the end of the trial. He is the first accomplice to testify against Simpson and Stewart.
Ehrlich began his testimony by walking District Attorney David Roger through the events as they happened during the day of incident. During his account of the confrontation, he told the court that someone said, “put the gun away.” When Roger asked him who said it, Ehrlich said, “I think it was Mr. Simpson.”
Later in his testimony, the witness more strongly identified Simpson as shouting at the gunman: “I heard O.J. say, ‘put the guns away’.”
One of the two victims in the case, Bruce Fromong, testified last week that he heard someone yell, “put the gun down, put the gun down,” during the altercation, but he couldn’t say for sure who said it.
Fromong had said Simpson was waving his arm in an up-and-down motion as the instructions were being shouted.
Ehrlich said after someone yelled, "put the gun away," the gunman concealed his weapon.
Earlier in the day, the middleman who arranged the infamous meeting, Thomas Riccio, said he didn’t know if Simpson knew guns were involved or not.
“I know for sure I saw it, I know he said he didn’t.”
He said no one mentioned the firearm during the raid, even when Michael McClinton was allegedly brandishing it about, pointing it at Riccio, Fromong and Beardsley.
“Nobody mentioned a gun for some reason, but it was there.”
Riccio said he received a call from Simpson almost immediately after the men left the room. He said the all-star running back told him repeatedly and hurriedly that no guns were involved.
While Riccio conceded that it “was a possibility” that Simpson was trying to get him to say that he hadn’t seen a gun, he told Galenter that Simpson had never asked him to lie.
He said there was no question, however, concerning whether or not the memorabilia Simpson was attempting to recover had been stolen.
“(Beardsley) just came right out and said they were stolen from (Simpson’s) trophy room in Rockingham,” Riccio said. “He came right out and crystal clearly said, ‘these are stolen from his trophy room’. That’s his quote, verbatim.”
Riccio said half of the Simpson memorabilia Beardsley was selling was stolen and the other half had been purchased legally. “They were (acquired through) two different deals,” he said. “One was bought from a storage shed (auction), and one was stolen from (Simpson’s trophy) room.”
“I knew they were stolen,” Riccio said. “Beardsley was saying they were stolen, O.J. said they were stolen, I believed they were stolen.”
Ehlrich said that after the men left the room they drove to the Palms, where Simpson was staying. When they went up to his room, Ehrlich said they encountered Simpson’s girlfriend, Christy Prody.
All the while, he said Simpson was visibly upset.
He said Simpson delivered bad news to Prody after they entered the room. “He said ‘I (expletive) up, I’m going to need a bail bondsman’,” then sat down and picked up the phone,” Ehrlich said.
He said he asked Simpson why the other men brought guns but Simpson just kept saying “there were no guns, there were no guns.” “He was in denial,” Ehrlich concluded.
Earlier today, Thomas Riccio, who revealed under oath he is $210,000 richer thanks to his involvement in the scandal, got another bonus after he finished testifying.
Before Riccio left the court this afternoon, a defense attorney had a parting gift for the prosecution’s star witness. After he stepped down from the witness stand, Riccio was handed a large red envelope from one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers, Yale Galanter.
Riccio had spent three days on the stand testifying against Galanter’s client, who, along with Clarence “C.J.” Stewart, is charged with a dozen robbery, kidnapping and weapons charges following a confrontation with two memorabilia dealers last year. Riccio arranged the meeting and rented the Palace Station hotel room where it took place.
Inside the red envelope was a copy of the book, “Busted!,” that Riccio wrote and released earlier this year.
Simpson had autographed the front cover, right next to the photo of his police mug shot. Inside the cover, the former NFL star inscribed: “Tom, Don’t squeeze the Juice!” and signed his name underneath.
Riccio, who is a memorabilia dealer, said he promised Galanter that he wouldn’t sell the autographed book.
Earlier today, Riccio told the court that he pocketed $210,000 from the gossip Web site TMZ, ABC News, CBS's syndicated program, Entertainment Tonight, and Howard Stern's radio show, which airs on Sirius Satellite Radio. The figure does not include royalties on his book, which is an L.A. Times bestseller.
Riccio was the middleman who arranged the infamous run-in with Simpson and the two men who say he and six others robbed them last year, Bruce Fromong and Alfred Beardsley.
Riccio secretly recorded the altercation and instead of turning it over to police, the collectibles dealer turned around and sold the audio recording to TMZ for $150,000.
Last week he testified that he waited until Simpson's arrest, on Sept. 16, 2007, before selling the recording.
Riccio was reluctant to tell the court how much he profited from the scandal and said he was under contract not to discuss matters, yet Judge Jackie Glass ordered Riccio answer questions about his finances from Simpson's attorney, Yale Galanter.
Galanter had already said Riccio sold the audio recording for "north of $100,000" earlier in the trial, but today Riccio said the actual sale price was considerably more than that.
And that was just the beginning.
Since the Set. 13, 2007, confrontation, he has received $210,000 in payouts from entertainment news organizations.
"ABC paid me 15 grand, Entertainment Tonight paid $25,000 ... we had deals with Howard Stern's show," Riccio said.
He explained ABC producers used a little creativity in order to make sure he appeared on their airwaves.
"They said, 'We can't pay you for an interview'," Riccio said. "It's against their rules or whatever." But after he refused to appear on-air, he said the network proposed a way around it.
"They said, 'Do you have a picture with O.J.?' and I said yeah and they said 'OK, we'll pay you for that'," Riccio said. "So we had ways around that."
"We didn't care how they wanted to do it as long as we were getting paid," he said.
ABC News vice president of media relations, Jeffrey Schneider, told the Las Vegas Sun today that Riccio's account was inaccurate.
"I think Mr. Riccio is confused about what he testified to earlier today," he said. "Our interest from start to finish was that audio tapes."
Schneider said ABC producers contacted Riccio on Sept. 17, 2007 in the interest of acquiring broadcast rights to the audio tapes. A contract between Riccio and ABC rights and contracts was drawn up and the network agreed to pay $15,000 in exchange for rights to the audio and "a handful" of photos.
It is not uncommon for media outlets to pay rights holders in exchange for permission to broadcast audio or video.
ABC used the audio in the Sept. 18, 2007, installment of Good Morning America. Riccio also appeared on-air to help interpret the audio, Schneider said.
In addition to the $25,000 ABC paid him for the picture in return for an interview, Riccio said CBS' syndicated nightly entertainment news program, Entertainment Tonight, chipped in an additional $15,000 to get him to appear on-air, and his involvement with the Howard Stern show saw him pocket $20,000 more.
He said Stern's show never paid him directly, but it was one sponsors, Clips4Sale, that cut the check.
"We got paid through a sponsor ... the sponsor paid us 20 grand," Riccio said.
Riccio also said he was given free advertising and promotional opportunities in exchange for his involvement.
He also appeared on the daytime talk show, Geraldo, and CNN’s Larry King Live, but did not accept money in return for those appearances. He said Gerald Rivera is “a business friend” of his and his appearance on CNN was of his own initiative.
Riccio also profited from a book that hit stores earlier this year. While most of "Busted!" focuses on Riccio's life and previous ups and downs, he and publishers Phoenix Books relied heavily on the Simpson scandal to sell copies.
The front cover displays police mug shots of Riccio and Simpson and reads: "Busted! The inside story of the world of sports memorabilia, O.J. Simpson and the Vegas arrests."
During cross-examination, Riccio told Galanter that only 40 or 50 pages of the book discuss his dealings with Simpson.
The book, which retails for $25.95, was named an L.A. Times bestseller.
Galanter also quizzed the memorabilia dealer, who is largely viewed as the prosecution's star witness, about other alleged attempts to profit from the scandal.
It has been reported that Riccio used his Web site, BustedVegas.com, to put out feelers for additional personal sponsors.
A Review-Journal columnist paraphrased in August what apparently appeared on Riccio's Web site before the trial began:
"For $7,500, Riccio will place your ad on the limo he takes to the courthouse. The fee is $5,000 on noncourt days.
"Pay him $5,000 and he'll have dinner at your restaurant the day he testifies. The fee is $2,500 for breakfast and $2,000 to do lunch at your eatery that day.
"... For $5,000 Riccio will plug your product or company during talk-show appearances ... (And) it costs $6,000 'if he wears your hat all five days he is in Las Vegas'."
"For $5,500, Riccio will appear in a Review-Journal ad pitching your restaurant, according to the Web site."
Riccio today denied that he ever used the site to lure in sponsors, but acknowledged others encouraged him to try to use the site to secure sponsorships.
He explained that he isn't George Clooney and said he thought it was "ridiculous" to expect anyone to pay for an appearance or to have lunch with him.
His lawyer, Stan Lieber, later conceded that the people who run Riccio’s Web site might have posted the publicity price lists without authorization.
During his opening statement, Galanter said, "It is about the amount of money these individuals are trying to make off of the back of O.J. Simpson."
"They have said that they will sell their testimony, slant the truth for money, and want to get paid," he charged.
Outside the courtroom Riccio said he was satisfied with his performance on the stand. “They all know I’m telling the truth,” he said.
Still, he said prosecutors “always seemed disappointed to some degree.”
“They were mad that I wouldn’t go along with the fact that they were trying to say the stuff was rightfully purchased, which is wasn’t,” He said.
Judge Jackie Glass became frustrated and annoyed at several points on Monday as Riccio repeatedly needed to refer to transcripts of his preliminary hearing testimony in order to supply consistent testimony.
He oftentimes provided contradictory testimony and had to be reminded of what he had already said while under oath, which caused objections from both the prosecution and the defense.
As he left the courthouse Monday afternoon, Riccio told reporters that he “technically” believed a robbery had been committed.
“They took a lot of stuff … that didn’t belong to O.J.” he said, just moments after leaving the witness stand.
He noted Simpson wasn’t one of the ones to take any of those items.
Riccio declined to say whether or not Simpson should do jail time because of what happened in the Palace Station hotel room last year, and did not comment on the fact that some men, including both of the alleged gunmen, were offered plea bargains when others, such as Simpson’s co-accused, “C.J.” Stewart, were not.
“The chips gotta fall where they may,” Riccio said.
He has few regrets, but figured he would perhaps use “a video camera instead of just an audio (recorder)” next time.
“I have no hard feelings.”