Ono allegedly blackmailed by driver


NEW YORK -- A judge set bail at $500,000 Thursday for a chauffeur for Yoko Ono after a prosecutor said he tried to extort $2 million from John Lennon's widow and "had people on standby waiting to kill" her.

Police arrested Koral Karsan, who lives in Amityville, N.Y., on Wednesday and charged him with first-degree attempted grand larceny for allegedly trying to shake down Ono, the 73-year-old widow of the former Beatle. Prosecutors say Karsan threatened to release embarrassing recordings and photographs of Ono.

At Karsan's arraignment, Judge Tanya Kennedy ordered him jailed, with bail set at $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash. If he posts bail, prosecutors will have 72 hours to check the source of the money and raise any objections.

Prosecutor Maureen O'Connor asked Kennedy to set high bail because she said Karsan, 50, was an "extraordinary flight risk." She said he has been in the country about 10 years, has family, property and contacts back home in Turkey, and "there is no doubt he would flee" if released on bail, the prosecutor told the judge.

Karsan's lawyer, Patrick Kevin Brosnahan, said his client was not guilty and "will vigorously dispute these charges."

"There are other issues between my client and the complainant," Brosnahan said. He refused to explain what those were but he said Ono has had similar issues with other employees.

As he was being led from a Manhattan police station Wednesday, Karsan denied the allegations and said Ono was trying "to stop me from pursuing a sexual harassment case."

Elliott Mintz, a spokesman for Ono, denied Karsan's statement.

Ono reported the plot, Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.

A felony complaint filed at Karsan's arraignment says he gave Ono a letter on Dec. 8 -- the anniversary of Lennon's fatal shooting in front of the Dakota apartment building where the couple lived and where Ono still lives.

The complaint says the letter contained numerous allegations about her and personal information about her, her friends and her family members. The letter also claims Karsan taped conversations and took photographs that he would release to the media if Ono did not give him $2 million, the complaint says.

Part of the letter, released by prosecutors, said:

"I will not only write about these recordings but will distribute them to European broadcast stations. Be advised I am moving back to Turkey permanently and will publish my book in Turkey and will distribute the prints throughout the Internet from Iran where I have already secured e-commerce capability."

The complaint says that on Dec. 12, Karsan went to the office of a second witness, identified by prosecutors as Ono's lawyer Jonas Herbsman. Karsan told him that if his client did not give him the $2 million he "would ruin the life of (Ono), her children and associates" and have her killed, the complaint says.

Mintz, Ono's spokesman, said Karsan worked for Ono for at least six years, driving her almost daily when she was in New York. Prosecutors said she paid him between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.

"She is one woman who has been through enough," Mintz told The Associated Press. "For an employee -- especially a trusted employee who drove her -- to attempt a shakedown has left her just absolutely shocked."

"You're reminded that this takes place around that time of the anniversary (of Lennon's death) when she is in a particularly vulnerable position," Mintz said. "It just adds insult to injury. This one's really cold."

On the night of Dec. 8, 1980, Lennon was returning home with Ono from a recording studio when Mark David Chapman opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver, hitting him four times.

Fans observe the anniversary of Lennon's death by gathering at Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park opposite the Dakota. In the past, Ono and son Sean Lennon have placed candles on the windowsill of their apartment as a message of support.