Heather Mills, ex-wife of Paul McCartney, says a reporter set up a fake charity to trick her into dishing dirt on her marriage to the ex-Beatles superstar and their infamous divorce. Mills' accusations are the latest battle in a long-running war between the wealthy ex-model and the British tabloid media, including News Corp., the media empire owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, where Mills believes the alleged sting originated.
Mills says that in January her agent was approached by a Dr. Erika Taylor, claiming to be with an American-based charity called Marital Understanding. 'Dr. Taylor' was inviting Mills to speak at their black-tie gala in Los Angeles for a fee of $60,000, which would have been donated to the charity Mines Advisory Group.
But Mills and her agent grew skeptical when they saw the alleged organization's very amateurish website – not to mention the URL – which ended in .com, not .org as most legitimate non-profit organizations do.
In fact, there is no such charity called Marital Understanding, according to the California Secretary of State's office. No non-profit organization called Marital Understanding has filed a 990 form in California. The California Secretary of State's office confirmed that no charity by that name is in their database. The website, maritalunderstanding.com, has since been taken down.
Now quite skeptical Mills and her agent did some further research and learned the website had been established just two days before it was sent to her.
It was then that they decided to examine the emails from the alleged charity. The IP address, they say, eventually traced back to News Corporation, which runs numerous British papers including the tabloids The Sun and The News of the World. News Corporation also runs The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal in the U.S.
Mills said it was then that she came to the belief that the 'invitation' was actually made by a reporter from News Corp. in an attempt to get her to divulge details about her marriage and divorce.
In order to test her theory, Mills decided to tape record a phone conversation she had in February with a woman who claimed to be from Marital Understanding. Mills put the woman on the spot and she didn't seem to have any answers.
"The only thing I don't understand is the maritalunderstanding.com. What you've got on the website is that it's a registered charity," said Mills, "And obviously I've been involved with charities for a long time, but you have no charity registration number."
"Huh? No, I have to speak with Erika about that, I don't know about that," says the woman.
"And your 1-800 toll free number doesn't really go through to anything, as I understand," said Mills. "It goes through to something completely different."
"Well, that's odd," the woman replies.
Mills informs the woman that she has reported the incident to the Metropolitan Police in London and the woman claims she has done nothing wrong though she no longer insists she is connected to any charity.
The Metropolitan Police are determining whether or not there will be a criminal investigation into the matter. The Crown Prosecution Service is also advising the police in the matter which they say is "under review".
"I hope the police look into this case seriously," Mills told ABCNews.com. "It's one thing to report the news, but a wholly different matter to try to create news by attempting a sting like this."
News Corp. says they have no comment on the incident, but this is not the first time the tabloid has been in hot water over an alleged sting operation.
Last year, the News of the World paid a woman to make a video of a private sadomasochistic group sex romp that included Max Mosley, president of a world motorsport organization that governs Formula One racing. Mosley is also the son of Oswald Mosley, the infamous British fascist politician and Hitler supporter. The newspaper ran the story with the headline "F1 Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy with 5 Hookers."
The story shocked the world of racing and many were surprised when Mosley sued the paper for invasion of privacy. The case forced Mosley to come clean about his participation in the orgy, as well his non-traditional sexual tendencies, but he won the suit because the newspaper was unable to prove a Nazi-theme to the orgy, and therefore a lack of public interest.
Mosley, like Mills, has since been on a personal quest to correct the record on what has been reported about him.
"There is no doubt that many more lives than mine have been destroyed due to the abuse of this section of the British tabloid media," said Mills.
Mills has repeatedly delivered her complaints to the British Press Complaints Commission, an independent panel that arbitrates editorial complaints about news organizations. Five out of the five complaints she has brought to the commission have resulted in retractions and or apologies by the newspapers. In one case, the Sunday Mirror published a correction to an erroneous report that Mills had breast enhancement surgery.