MARQUETTE - In extensive court testimony Tuesday, actor John Stamos denied allegations of cocaine use or an improper relationship with defendant Allison Lenore Coss and he detailed lengthy e-mail correspondence about the supposed existence of compromising photographs he'd been offered for $680,000.
Scott Edward Sippola, 31, and Coss, 24, of Marquette pleaded not guilty to a three-count federal felony grand jury indictment in May. They are charged with conspiracy to extort money using interstate communications and two counts of sending a threat to injure the reputation of another with intent to extort money. Federal attorneys claim the couple used e-mails from Coss and a pseudonym "Brian L." to orchestrate the alleged extortion plot.
The couple claim they had a right to the photographs they said they possessed of Stamos with strippers and cocaine and were offering him the first opportunity to buy them before offering them to tabloids.
Stamos said he met Coss at a night club at Pleasure Island in April 2004 in Orlando, Fla., while vacationing there with some male friends.
"I think my friends were dancing with her and they introduced me to her," Stamos testified.
He said he remembered getting her phone number that night and calling her the next day. They went to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center with friends and a Disney guide. Nine photos from that outing were provided by Stamos to the FBI. They were shown in court Tuesday and included a photo of the group with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Stamos said he does work for Disney and a charity organization and the company had paid for his suite at the Grand Floridian Hotel.
Stamos said he gave Coss his shirt to wear after she got hers wet during a ride on Splash Mountain. Later that night, he said she was invited to his hotel room where about 10 persons had gathered.
"We were just hanging out, socializing," Stamos said.
Stamos denied going into a hot tub with Coss. He has no recollection of her admitting she was 17 or whether she was drinking. He testified she was in Florida on her college spring break. The trip occurred a couple weeks before she turned 18. He was 40.
Stamos said he gave her his e-mail address. The sometimes flirty, photo exchange e-mail friendship that followed included roughly monthly e-mails, usually initiated by Coss, Stamos said.
"It was all pretty sweet. I considered her a friend," Stamos said. "It was a sweet, flirty, normal relationship."
Stamos later got Coss a plane ticket to see him in Chicago when he was there on location filming an episode of "ER."
On Sept. 15, 2009, Stamos received an e-mail from someone claiming to be Jessica Taylor. She said she was 17 and pregnant and wanted the actor to contact her. No direct request for money was made, but a second e-mail sent four days later implied a threat.
"The choice is yours," wrote Jessica T. "That night was full of drinking and drugs and I'm sure you do not want any of those pictures to get out," Stamos testified.
A reply to cease and desist from Stamos' attorney - which has not been produced in court - ended that correspondence with the actor, he said.
Coss later wrote to Stamos and said her friend "Qynn" - whom Stamos met in Florida with her - had died in a car accident. But she apparently had compromising photos not destroyed from 2004.
As jurors read along with the e-mails in provided notebooks, Stamos donned thick-rimmed black reading glasses and read aloud 20 Coss e-mails and 18 written by "Brian L.," who was purported to be Qynn's cousin in possession of the allegedly damaging Stamos images.
"I hope it's all just crap talk in a small town," Coss wrote.
Stamos replied, "I have no idea how bad those pics could be. We were just drinking and carrying on."
Coss told Stamos she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer. She later told Stamos she gave the money she had saved up for cancer surgery - almost $10,000- to "Brian L.," and got one photo in return, which was not depicting anything bad.
Stamos, who said he wasn't worried about compromising photos but was feeling protective of Coss, later responded, "It is wrong what he's doing. It's called extortion and I'll bust his balls if that's what he's trying to do."
Stamos also said he began to suspect Coss was involved in the alleged plot after she talked about the $10,000.
Numerous e-mails continued back and forth with Coss trying to put Stamos in touch with "Brian L.," who reportedly said he'd had offers from smaller magazines for the photos. Stamos testified he is "too smart" to be involved in situations where compromising photos could be taken. There weren't any, he said.
Coss claimed in e-mails she has seen the bad photos and they show people doing lines of cocaine off the tables and mirror and trashing the hotel room. Another photo showed Stamos with a bedpost in his hand he remembered breaking.
Stamos said there were no drugs in his room that he saw and he didn't use any. He said no one stripped in the room and he told Coss to refer "Brian L." to his attorney, whom she said he didn't want to contact.
Defense attorney Sarah Henderson suggested Stamos could have instructed Coss to call the police, get a personal protection order against "Brian L." or simply tell him to "buzz off" to end the issue quickly. But instead, Stamos referred him to his attorney, suggesting Stamos was indeed concerned there were bad photos and wanted to handle it quietly with the help of his attorney and cash.
Eventually "Brian L." contacted Stamos by e-mail and the offer is made to sell the photos to Stamos of $680,000, which is the supposed offered tabloid price of $780,000, minus taxes.
Three innocent photos were sent to Stamos from "Brian L." in an e-mail. Those pictures were later recovered in a search warrant at Coss and Sippola's home.
"I'm really not a bad guy. I'm giving you the option to make sure no one else ever sees the pictures," "Brian L." wrote to Stamos. "I'm not trying to bribe you or play games."
Stamos contacted his attorney, who called the FBI.
"I felt threatened, violated," Stamos testified. "I felt this was illegal."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.