Nov. 27, 2007 — -- Oprah Winfrey's alleged blackmailer claims he's about to publish a tell-all book about the talk-show queen's private life and business secrets.
Keifer Bonvillain, the 37-year-old former civil rights activist and author of the as yet unpublished "Ruthless," was arrested in May for allegedly attempting to extort the talk show queen out of $1.5 million. According to police, Bonvillain threatened to expose tape recordings of conversations that he claimed reveal behind-the-scenes shenanigans at Winfrey's production company.
On Monday, Bonvillain posted the book's chapter headings on his Web site, hinting at revelations about Winfrey's sexual preferences; her relationship with beau Stedman Graham; allegations that Winfrey lies on her talk show; alleged civil rights violations at Winfrey's company, Harpo Productions; her school in South Africa; and the truth behind her endorsement of presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
Bonvillain promises plenty of detail about his legal battle with Winfrey's attorneys in chapters titled "Framed by Oprah and Her Lawyers" and by posting audio files that purport to record Harpo Films counsel Bill Becker assuring Bonvillain that he didn't consider a payoff to be extortion.
In the tapes, Becker purportedly tells Bonvillain about Winfrey's reaction to the recordings: "She was devastated. The reaction of senior managers was horror."
It's just the latest chapter in a strange saga that began when Bonvillain struck up a friendship with an office manager in the California offices of Harpo Films in October 2006 and began tape-recording their conversations.
The employee, who has since left Harpo Films (the office says he was fired) and was identified as Todd Davis by Radar magazine, claims that there were no major revelations on the tapes beyond the usual gripes of a low-level employee.
"There's nothing on there that would destroy her reputation," Davis told Radar. "I didn't say anything so damaging that Ms. Winfrey is going to fall off her pedestal."
But Bonvillain felt differently, claiming that the tapes contained "shocking stuff" about Winfrey's private life, and decided to write a book based on the conversations.
In November 2006, Bonvillain faxed a list of 26 questions to Harpo's publicity department and was soon contacted by Becker. After several conversations, the attorney called the FBI and helped coordinate a sting operation.
In exchange for $1.5 million and a promise that Winfrey would not sue him, Bonvillain agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, not to write a book and to destroy taped and written evidence of his discussions with Davis, according to the FBI affidavit.
Soon after Bonvillain drove to meet Becker at an Marriot Hotel near the airport in Atlanta on Dec. 15, he was arrested by two FBI agents and charged with threatening to release details of his conversations with Davis unless he was paid off by Winfrey.
Four months later, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago deferred Bonvillain's prosecution. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges "in return for him completing conditions of a pretrial diversion agreement for one year, which required him to attend school or go to work, receive drug testing and treatment, 50 hours of community service and to pay $3,000 in restitution to the FBI," said Randall Sanborn, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office.
Sanborn would not comment on whether Bonvillain's publication of "Ruthless" and the release of audiotapes constituted a breach of that agreement.
It's not the first time that Bonvillain has taped his conversations and used the information to suit his own purposes.
Angela Roper and Kenneth S. Thyne, two lawyers in New Jersey, sued Bonvillain and a law firm last month, claiming that Bonvillain had misrepresented himself and surreptitiously recorded their conversations. Among the defendants in the case were two law firms and their partners, including Jeffrey K. Brown.