(NEW YORK) — Florida police have released audiotapes they say capture a woman trying to blackmail the wealthy family that founded Claire’s, a popular accessory and jewelry store often found in shopping malls, for $3 million.
Camille Brown, 32, was arrested on Oct. 9, 2012, on extortion charges after authorities said she threatened to release embarrassing information and family secrets about Rowland and Sylvia Schaefer, the founders of Claire’s, unless she was paid a to keep them private.
Brown is the daughter of the Schaefers’ former housekeeper, Coleen Parkes, who was fired on Sept. 22, 2012. The family’s attorney has written in court documents that Parkes was let go because she was refusing to clean up after the Schaefers and she wasn’t preparing meals consistent with the couple’s medical conditions.
Three days after Parkes’ dismissal, one of the daughter’s of the Schaefers, Bonnie, says she got a threatening email from Brown.
“The email alleges that Sylvia Schaefer handed Brown a series of family letters that detailed deep, dark personal secrets that involved the family and Brown had kept those letters,” said Jon Burstein, a writer for the Fort Lauderdale-based Sun Sentinel newspaper, which has been following the story since it broke in October.
The email allegedly threatened that if Bonnie Schaefer did not respond, the letters might be sold to the highest bidder.
Bonnie Schaefer called the police, who set up a sting operation. Police said an undercover agent met with Brown twice at a hotel. The undercover agent acted as a representative of the Schaefer family.
“What do you feel is fair to get the correspondence back?” the agent asks in one of the meetings.
“I feel fair-market value is fair,” the woman responds.
That’s when police say the woman pulled out a card with a dollar figure and handed it to the agent.
“Three million dollars?” the agent asks.
“That’s the minimum,” the woman says.
The agent tells the woman that he doesn’t think the family will agree to the $3 million amount.
“I think the family really shouldn’t think twice about paying this amount to get the information back. … I’m very sure it’s just going to be very damaging information,” the woman says.
After a second meeting at a Hampton Inn in Boynton Beach, Brown was arrested. Brown has pleaded not guilty to extortion charges.
In an email to ABC News, Brown’s lawyer says, “Ms. Brown looks forward to her day in court and to proving that the letters were lawfully given to her. In court, we will also present unequivocal evidence that Ms. Brown’s offer to return the letters, did not constitute extortion, blackmail or bribery. Ms. Brown is not alleging that the Schaefers mistreated her mother, however, we anticipate the trial testimony will reveal that her mother was, in fact, mistreated.”
The Schaefers are suing Brown and her mother to get the letters back.
“As any family having to deal with betrayal, I think they should be commended for addressing a situation like this so that people can be held accountable,” the Schaefers’ family attorney Bill Shepherd said.
Claire’s was sold to a private equity firm in 2007 and it’s believed that the Schaefers’ holdings were worth more than $239 million, according to Burstein.
The trial is set to begin in June. Brown, who is out of jail on a $75,000 bond, is facing 15 years in prison.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
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