Daily Archives: May 14, 2004

Dunne Undone

Dominick Dunne is in a world of trouble.

Dominick Dunne, one of his most famed writers in the Vanity Fair stable, is being accused by a woman of paying her to lie for some of his stories.
Dunne says she’s trying to shake him down for money. And the woman admits she has had trouble with the law in the past: in particular, she was convicted of forging checks. But Dunne also acknowledges he interviewed the woman, Martha (Marti) Shelton, and did give her money – four checks, amounting to about $1,600 over the years.

My, my, my. It has come to a pretty pass for the former Anais Nin boytoy, brother of novelist/journalist John Gregory Dunne, father of actor-producer Griffin Dunne (After Hours ) and murdered actress daughter Dominique (Poltergeist) , brother-in-law to Joan Didion, and model for the straight interloper in Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band (whose William Friedkin directed movie version he produced.) For quite a number of years Dunne could be counted on to provide gossipy, colorful compulsively readable columns about “celebrity” misdeeds, and resultant trials in Vanity Fair , whose editor Graydon Carter is also being questioned about his professional practices. But the log-rolling that resulted in pretentious piffle like A Beautiful Mind is quite a different kettle of fishiness than the one Dunne has poured himself into.

“I did indeed send her money from time to time,” he said in a statement. “It was always after a request from her. I seem to remember that one time she had just gotten fired from a job and she was going to be evicted. There was always a hard luck story. I can’t remember the specifics. Once her furniture was put on the street, I think.”
Shelton says she received at least $6,100 over a nine-year period as part of her “deal” with Dunne.
I’m a soft touch for a hard luck story,” Dunne explained. “I always have been.”
He said it was never as payment for being a source, though she did make an appearance in two stories.

A genuine Rosie O’Donnell, no doubt about it.

Whatever Dunne’s motivation, it’s unusual for mainstream journalists to give money to sources, and now Dunne’s regretting it.
He has the support of his boss. Through a spokeswoman, Carter said he’s OK with what Dunne did, since the money came out of the writer’s own pocket.
“It was a personal relationship with this woman,” a Carter spokeswoman said. “He felt sorry for her. It has nothing to do with the magazine. Conde Nast never sent her a check.”

Deniability is so important in these matters.

Shelton, 40, who lives in Stafford, Va, says Dunne first paid her to lie for a piece he wrote about Erik and Lyle Menendez in April 1994, then paid her to keep quiet over 10 years.

Now this is truly strange. Why lie about the Menendi? Why would there be any need to invent anything about these monsters?

Later, she alleges, he offered to pay her to help cook up a story about the sex life of former Rep. Gary Condit.

Now we’re cookin’ !

She is quoted in Dunne’s April 1994 piece saying she overheard Lyle Menendez tell someone, after his first trial ended in a mistrial, “We’ve snowed half the country. Now we have to snow the other half.”
“That was a lie,” Shelton now says. According to stories in the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post in mid-May 1994, authorities searched her home to find evidence to support her quoted statement, but came up empty
Shelton now says she never overheard Menendez say that, but she was coached by Dunne.

Oh to hell with them! What about Condit?

Shelton says she told Vanity Fair fact checkers at the time the quote was made up, but they were only interested in getting her tape-recorded statement owning up to the quote – which she provided.
Shelton admits she lied in the past. “What I did was wrong,” she said, referring to the quote she gave to Vanity Fair.
“But what he did was wrong as well. He backed out of a deal.”
The deal, she alleges, was to give her $100,000 in return for her statements and help – an amount that Dunne and Vanity Fair call absurd.
Shelton claims to have kept copies of Dunne’s checks, but declined a request to provide copies.
She said she eventually hopes to sell those checks to a supermarket tabloid for $5,000. Dunne admits he sent Shelton four checks over the years, two for $300 apiece and two for $500 apiece.

She should have asked for a co-author or “research’ credit. But then she wouldn’t have been an “unnamed source.”

Shelton said Dunne also wanted her to lie by linking former Congressman Gary Condit to the Washington, D.C. S&M sex scene.
Shelton admits she participates in such activities herself on a recreational basis, but added that she never saw Condit doing so.
“I can’t lie about someone I never met,” she says.
A Vanity Fair spokesman says it was Shelton who cooked up that story about Condit and presented it to Dunne, who immediately turned over the information to his lawyers without responding to her e-mail.

This was the bit about Chandra Levy being sold to “white slave” traders. It read like something right out of Joe Orton’s Between Us Girls , or a Carry On movie. But without the wit.

Shelton admits she has money woes and could be facing eviction from a home that she shares in Stafford, Va., with her two children, a disabled sister – who is also a minister with Women Aglow, a fundamentalist Christian organization – and the sister’s husband, who she said is battling cancer.

Dominick Dunne working for the Fundies? Now there’s a story!

It was while in prison for the check-writing fraud in the early 1990s that she first wrote to Lyle Menendez, and they continued a friendship when she got out, she said.
In the second trial, Erik and Lyle Menendez were convicted of murdering their parents.

And their lawyer, curly-maned pit bull Leslie Abramson, is now busy defending Phil Spector. Oh, what a world!

Dunne is being sued for $11 million in a libel suit filed by former Congressman Condit for comments Dunne made on three national TV talk shows and on the “dinner circuit” in which he alleged that the former congressman was involved in a plot to kill former congressional intern Chandra Levy.
Levy’s body was discovered in May 2002 in a Washington area park, but nobody has been arrested for the murder.
Condit’s lawyers are aware of Shelton’s allegations and what they believe are a stream of e-mails between her and Dunne discussing a plan to link Condit to the underground sex scene in Washington, D.C.
“I have no idea at this point if the allegations are true,” said Condit attorney Lin Wood.
“However the copies of the e-mails we have received certainly appear to be authentic – enough so that we plan to investigate and see if they are true or false.
“We’ll also be able to find out what checks if any, he has written to her,” Wood added.
“We’ll make an effort to inspect the computers [Dunne] uses to find out if it is a fabricated story or true…We’re going to investigate this matter thoroughly.”

Just in case Gary Condit did attend S&M sex parties where Shelton was present. And the world of politics being what it is it’s not inconcievable. But seeling Chandra Levy to the Arabs is another matter. And murdering her is another matter once again.

Dunne’s attorney, Laura Handman, counters, “When Ms. Shelton left messages demanding money and making threats, Dominick did not respond because he has nothing to hide and did nothing wrong. We look forward to getting to the bottom of this.”

Maybe she can call Martha Stewart as a character witness.