MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) - A Michigan couple were convicted Thursday of trying to extort$680,000 from actor John Stamos by threatening to sell old photosof him with strippers and cocaine to the tabloids unless he paidup.
Allison Coss, 24, and Scott Sippola, 31, both of Marquette, werefound guilty in federal court of conspiracy and using e-mail tothreaten a person's reputation — charges that could land themin prison for up to five years.
Police arrested the two in a sting in December at an UpperPeninsula airport after Stamos reported being the victim of anextortion attempt.
Defense attorneys told the jury it wasn't a crime to offer theimages to Stamos before going to the celebrity media. FBI agents,however, testified that a search of the couple's home, vehicles andcomputer failed to turn up any evidence of embarrassingpictures.
Stamos, 46, was too late to the courtroom to hear the verdictbut was present minutes later when the judge polled each juror, acommon step in trials. He smiled, looked relieved, and shook handswith the prosecutors.
Sippola was expressionless while Coss wiped her eyes. Sentencingwas scheduled for Oct. 8.
Dozens of fans waited to congratulate the former "ER" and "FullHouse" star as he left the federal courthouse. In a writtenstatement, Stamos said he was "shocked and perplexed" by the "falsestories" offered by Coss and defense lawyers.
"These slanderous allegations to smear my reputation were partof their defense to redirect attention away from the federal crimeof extortion," he said.
U.S. Attorney Donald Davis praised Stamos for cooperating withauthorities.
"Too often victims are afraid to report such crimes for fear ofbecoming involved in a drawn-out prosecution, and of beingre-victimized by the process," Davis said.
There is no dispute that Stamos met Coss in Orlando, Fla., in2004, shortly after he had separated from his supermodel wifeRebecca Romijn — or that Coss, then 17, attended a party inhis hotel room. But their accounts of what happened there differedsharply.
Coss testified that Stamos snorted cocaine, sat nude in a hottub with the scantily clothed teenager, and made sexual advances asthey kissed while lying on a bed.
"There was no hot tub, no drugs, no nudity and nothing sexual innature involved in my friendship with this woman," Stamos said inhis statement. "They lied about everything."
Coss and Stamos kept in touch by e-mail over the years. Cossadmited hatching a plot to bilk the actor after her boyfriendSippola found photos of them in Florida.
At first, she sent two messages with a pseudonym claiming to bea girl Stamos had impregnated at age 17. His attorney respondedwith a lawsuit threat.
Coss then told Stamos a man was harassing her about havingincriminating photos of the pair. Stamos said there was nothing toworry about.
"I'll bust him up. ... We didn't take any bad pics. I'm toosmart," he said in one e-mail.
Coss and Sippola finally posed as "Brian L," a man who claimedhe had pictures of Stamos with drugs and strippers and had beenoffered $780,000 in a tabloid bidding war. They offered to sell himthe pictures for $680,000 but never produced them. Stamos —and prosecutors — say they never existed.
"I don't think Shakespeare could write a story to set up a fakeblackmail scheme to set up a real blackmail scheme. But that isexactly what they did," Assistant U.S. Attorney Maarten Vermaatsaid in closing arguments.
"This is completely 100 percent made up," he said of the"get-rich-quick scheme."
Defense attorney Sarah Henderson told jurors Coss and Sippolawere "in over their heads" but didn't commit a crime and believedthey were transacting a legitimate business deal.
"What happened to the pictures? I don't know the answer to that.I wish I did," Henderson told the jury, adding that it would be a"stretch" to believe Coss and Sippola would craft a plot but havenothing to sell to Stamos or the tabloids.
The defense contended the compromising photos were lost ordestroyed during the FBI raid. Agents repeatedly denied that underquestioning by Henderson.
Defense lawyer Frank Stupak Jr. said the verdict wasdisappointing but the trial was fair.
The four-day trial created a sensation in Marquette, a city of20,000 on Lake Superior. Fans waited hours outside the courthouseto get Stamos' autograph and pose for photos with him as he cameand went.
"He seems like a really decent guy," Lisa Pohlman, 44, saidwhile waiting for a glimpse of the actor. "I really feel bad thathe got dragged into this."
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