Man accused of extorting Winfrey waives hearing

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CHICAGO -- The case against an Atlanta man reportedly accused of trying to extort $1.5 million from Oprah Winfrey is likely headed to a grand jury.

Keifer Bonvillain, 36, was scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate on Monday but waived the preliminary hearing, said Randall Samborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.

A grand jury may be asked instead to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

Samborn refused to confirm Winfrey was the target, and the criminal complaint only identified Bonvillain's aim as "Individual A," who was "a public figure and the owner of a Chicago-based company." The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, citing unnamed sources, have reported his target was Winfrey.

There was no response to phone messages Monday seeking comment from Harpo Productions Inc., Winfrey's company.

Bonvillain's attorney, Kent Carlson, also did not return a phone call.

According to the complaint, Bonvillain met a California-based employee of the Chicago company at a party more than two years ago, then recorded conversations with the employee about the owner and her business.

In mid-October he sent the owner an e-mail, telling her an employee said awful things about her, the complaint states. A month later, Bonvillain sent a letter saying he had tapes of the conversations, an FBI agent alleges in the complaint.

Over the next few weeks, Bonvillain told the associate he wanted to publish a book based on the tapes and claimed he had received offers of $500,000 to $3 million from tabloids and book publishers, the complaint said.

The associate, who was working with the FBI, agreed to a $1.5 million price, wired Bonvillain $3,000 and arranged to meet him, the complaint said.

Bonvillain was arrested Dec. 15 in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel and released on $20,000 bond.
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