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Plea agreement reached in Letterman case

Bob Anez Associated Press

CONRAD, Mont. – Prosecutors on Monday agreed to drop a kidnapping-related charge against the man accused of plotting to abduct David Letterman’s young son, in exchange for guilty pleas on three other charges.

Kelly Frank pleaded guilty in state District Court to felony theft, misdemeanor obstruction and possessing illegally killed wildlife, a felony. In exchange, Teton County Attorney Joe Coble dropped a felony charge of solicitation, which accused Frank of plotting to kidnap Letterman’s son from the talk show host’s ranch near Choteau, in north-central Montana.

Frank, a convicted felon who had been hired to do painting work on Letterman’s ranch, was arrested in March. Investigators said he told an acquaintance of his plan to abduct Letterman’s then 16-month-old son and the boy’s nanny and hold them for ransom. The acquaintance told authorities that Frank said he believed he could extort $5 million from Letterman by holding the two for 48 hours.

Frank had been scheduled to go to trial on July 18.

Coble said he agreed to dismiss the solicitation charge because he believed the plea agreement accomplished what he wanted.

“Kelly Frank needed to go to prison. This gets that done,” he said after Monday’s court hearing. “I was confident in the case. However, this plea agreement comes to the result I had hoped for without the risk of a jury trial or an appeal.”

The agreement calls for a 10-year sentence on the theft charge, which accused Frank of overcharging Letterman between $1,000 and $1,500 for painting. It also calls for a six-month sentence on the obstruction charge and five years on the wildlife possession charge. The latter two sentences would be served concurrent to the 10-year term.

The obstruction charge accused Frank of lying to investigators who originally questioned him about the plot. The wildlife possession charged was filed only Friday as part of the plea agreement and accused Frank of having large mule deer buck that had been poached in January or February.

District Judge Marc Buyske said he would decide whether to accept the plea agreement after reviewing a pre-sentence investigation report. Sentencing was tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13.

Frank’s attorney, Jim Hunt of Helena, said his client agreed to the plea deal because he understood “that there was a risk in going to trial.”

“He feels badly for the anxiety that this has caused the victims in this case and he wishes it hadn’t happened,” said Hunt, who insisted Frank’s remarks about a kidnapping were merely “lighthearted conversation” and not a serious plan.

“There was no intention by Kelly Frank to kidnap David Letterman’s son,” he told reporters.

At the time of his arrest in March, Frank was on probation in another case in which he pleaded guilty to stalking and intimidating a woman who accused him of kidnapping and raping her.

Coble said he talked with Letterman in advance of reaching the plea agreement.

“I think he trusts my judgment,” Coble said.

Neither Letterman, his son Harry Joseph, nor the boy’s mother, Regina Lasko, were in Montana at the time the alleged plot was uncovered.

But according to an affidavit filed in the case, Frank had told the acquaintance that he knew Letterman, Lasko and their son would be visiting the ranch soon, and that Frank had a key to the house and knew where the baby slept.

Letterman bought the 2,700-acre Montana spread along the edge of the rugged Rocky Mountain Front in 1999.

Tom Keaney, spokesman for Letterman’s production company, said late Monday it would be “inappropriate to comment on the proceedings at this time.”

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