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Sheriff Says Hustler Publisher Hired Celebrity Hit Man

October 27, 1988 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt offered a hitman $1 million to kill Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, Frank Sinatra, publisher Walter Annenberg and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, authorities said Wednesday.

The $1 million never was paid, however, and the purported hitman, Mitchel L. WerBell, died of a heart attack in December 1983 about a month after he allegedly accepted the check from Flynt, sheriff’s Capt. Robert Grimm said at a news conference.

Grimm identified targets of the alleged plot as Hefner, Sinatra and Guccione. He declined to name a fourth person targeted, but KNBC-TV news reported that person was Annenberg.

″Larry Flynt one evening called an individual by the name of WerBell to his home and allegedly offered him $1 million if he would arrange for the death of these four individuals,″ Sheriff Sherman Block told KNBC.

WerBell called himself an advisor to the Green Berets in Vietnam and a retired general of the Royal Free Afghan Army, according to promotional material from his counterterrorism firm, Sionics Inc., released by the Sheriff’s Department.

″He did in fact give WerBell a $1 million check which, immediately upon leaving, we were told, that Flynt’s business manager stopped payment on that check so it never was negotiated,″ the sheriff of Los Angeles County said in the broadcast interview.

The station displayed a photocopy of a $1 million check allegedly signed by Flynt, made out to WerBell.

Grimm said information about the alleged plot turned up recently in the investigation the 1983 murder-for-hire slaying of New York theater producer Roy Radin, whom authorities said was embroiled in a soured finance deal for the movie ″The Cotton Club.″

Grimm said sheriff’s investigators have not interviewed Flynt and have not presented a case to the district attorney’s office. He declined to elaborate and said the sheriff spoke about the purported plot because he was approached by the news media and decided to answer questions about it.

In 1983, Flynt claimed to have knowledge of videotapes purportedly showing Vicki Morgan, mistress of the late Diners Club founder Alfred Bloomingdales engaged in sexual antics with Reagan administration officials.

The tapes were never produced or proven to exist.

Another time that year, Flynt threatened to parachute over the Pacific Ocean at the site where Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet interceptor.

At the time, Flynt was heavily sedated with powerful drugs to assuage pain from wounds that left him paralyzed after an assassination attempt in 1978 during an obscenity trial in Georgia.

Block told KNBC that Flynt could possibly be prosecuted for soliciting a murder. However, no charges have been filed.

Bill Farley, director of communications for Playboy, said the plot occurred in November 1983 and came to light in the course of an investigation into another matter.

Farley said his information came from the Sheriff’s Department, but he did not know what the other matter was.

Susan Reynolds, publicist for Frank Sinatra, said the entertainer was en route to Reno, Nev., for performances and she wasn’t able to contact him. She said she would leave a message at the hotel, asking him to call.

A telephone call placed to Penthouse magazine headquarters in New York was answered by a security guard who said no one representing the magazine was available for comment.

A telephone call placed to Annenberg’s Palm Springs home was answered by a woman who said he was in residence on the East Coast and wouldn’t be immediately available for comment.

She declined to disclose her relationship to Annenberg or what city he was living in. She took a message and said she would forward it to Annenberg. After hours calls made to Annenberg’s Triangle Publications, in Radnor, Pa., went unanswered.

Block said he considered the matter serious. ″I’ve been led to believe that Larry Flynt has a propensity to try to harm people he sees as his enemies, whether business arrangements or whatever,″ Block said.

A receptionist at Flynt’s office didn’t know where the publisher and said she was unaware of the report on the alleged murder plot.

Although the broadcast report suggested a publishing rivalry between the men’s magazine publishers, Farley said the other names suggested that was not the case and that the motivation is unknown.

″Why the authorities chose to release Hugh Hefner’s name and not anybody else’s is a mystery to me,″ Farley said.