MARQUETTE, Mich. – Attorneys for a couple accused of plotting to extort $680,000 from John Stamos are trying to get them off the hook by attacking the actor's character and the FBI's credibility.
Defense lawyers in the trial of Allison Coss and Scott Sippola have portrayed Stamos as a promiscuous drug user — allegations he denied while testifying Tuesday. They've also asked federal agents whether they destroyed evidence after setting up a sting operation to snare the defendants, drawing emphatic denials.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, are methodically building their case with reams of documentation and testimony suggesting Coss and Sippola hoped to strike it rich by tricking Stamos into believing they were prepared to sell compromising photos of him to celebrity tabloids.
The government was scheduled to call more witnesses Wednesday in U.S. District Court. Judge R. Allan Edgar said he expected the jury to get the case Thursday.
Stamos, the 46-year-old "Full House" and "ER" star who's preparing to join the Fox hit show "Glee," spent several hours on the stand Tuesday. He acknowledged having a "flirty" e-mail relationship with Coss after socializing with her in Orlando, Fla., in 2004, but denied knowing she was 17 at the time.
Stamos also denied defense lawyer Sarah Henderson's accusation that he stripped and sat in a hot tub in his hotel room with Coss, who was wearing only underclothes. And he insisted knowing all along that no photos of him using illegal drugs existed, despite corresponding online with someone claiming to have such pictures.
Coss, now 24, and 31-year-old Sippola are charged with conspiracy and two counts of extortion. If convicted, the Marquette couple could get up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and two years on each extortion count.
Questioned by prosecutors, Stamos said he joined three male friends on a trip to Orlando six years ago, shortly after separating from his wife, actress and supermodel Rebecca Romijn. He said he met Coss at a dance club where patrons must be at least 18 and she told him she was a college student on spring break.
She actually was a high school student who had used a borrowed ID to get into the club, Henderson told jurors during opening arguments Monday.
The next day, they went to Disney World and later to his hotel room, where up to 10 people had gathered, Stamos said.
"We were just hanging out, socializing," he said.
Henderson said during her opening remarks that the night Stamos and Coss met, they wound up in his hotel suite with other people, including two strippers with cocaine. Henderson said Stamos was photographed bending over a table where the drugs had been laid out and that he offered to perform oral sex on Coss when they were on his bed kissing, but she declined.
Stamos was not asked about the alleged sex offer during his testimony and did not address it. Edgar last week ruled that questions about a sexual relationship between Coss and Stamos would not be allowed.
Prosecutors say the extortion attempt occurred last fall. They had Stamos read from e-mail exchanges, beginning with two messages from "J Taylor" who claimed he had gotten her pregnant.
"If this gets out, I am screwed. But most of all you are screwed 10 times more than me," it said. Henderson acknowledged Monday that Coss had sent the message.
Afterward, Stamos testified, Coss began sending him e-mails saying a man was harassing her about having incriminating photos of her and Stamos.
For the most part, Coss appears more fearful than Stamos in the e-mails. "I'm not worried about pics," he says. "The worst we were doing was drinking and goofing off."
In November, Stamos begins communicating with "Brian L," who prosecutors say was Sippola. The man says he has photos containing images of drug-taking, alcohol use and strippers. Brian L also says he's been offered $780,000 in a tabloid bidding war and offers the pictures to Stamos for $680,000, according to the e-mails Stamos read in court.
Stamos contacted the FBI, which orchestrated a fake money drop that led to Coss and Sippola being arrested Dec. 2. Afterward, 14 agents searched the couple's home. Several testified they found pictures of Coss with Stamos but said none were compromising.
Questioned by Henderson, agent Leslie Hahn and agent Steve Flattery both denied destroying any such photos or other evidence.