THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. â€“ An ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend of the real-life Erin Brockovich have been arrested in a sting and charged with trying to extort about $300,000 from her and her boss, lawyer Ed Masry.
The pair were threatening to go to the media with accusations about Brockovich, the tart-tongued, brainy woman whose legal work on a toxic waste case is the basis of the hit movie that bears her name and stars Julia Roberts, officials said.
"The threat was that they were going to go to the press and say that Erin and I had a sexual relationship and that Erin was a bad mother,'' Masry told the Los Angeles Times.
The arrests Wednesday of ex-husband Shawn William Brown, ex-boyfriend Jorg Lawrence Halaby and their attorney John Jeffrey Reiner capped a two-week investigation by the Ventura County district attorney's office and the FBI.
Investigators were outside Brockovich's attorney's office Wednesday morning as Brockovich and Masry handed over checks totaling $310,000 to the three men, who signed an agreement calling for their silence.
Hidden cameras were rolling, and almost as soon as Brockovich and Masry left the room, investigators entered and made the arrests, officials said.
Brown, 38, of Simi Valley, Halaby, 46, of Costa Mesa and Reiner, 53, whose office is in Century City, were booked at the Ventura County Jail with bail set at $50,000 each.
Brown and Reiner had been released by late Wednesday, and Halaby was expected to be released soon, said a records technician at the jail. Arraignments have been scheduled for Thursday.
Brockovich and Masry, who was played by Albert Finney in the movie, released a joint statement Wednesday afternoon that read in part: "Unfortunately, part of the price you pay for becoming well-known these days is that unscrupulous people try to take advantage of you. The very idea that there has ever been anything improper about our relationship is of course ludicrous.''
A phone call to Reiner's office went unanswered late Wednesday.
In the blockbuster movie, Brockovich goes to work for Masry as an assistant and, through hard work, initiative and guile, uncovers power plant pollution in a small town in the Mojave Desert and helps win a record $333 million settlement for a group of clients from corporate giant Pacific Gas & Electric. Erin Brockovich' has grossed more than $100 million since its March 17 release.