CRIME : The Fabulous Hoax of Clifford Irving

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Irving and Nessen tried to hammer out their own deal with the U.S. Attorney. They promised to cooperate provided the prosecutors could per suade the Swiss government to soften passport-forgery and bank-fraud charges against Irving's wife Edith. No one was quite certain whether Irving was acting out of chivalry or more self-serving motives. It was possible, some investigators said, that Irving hoped to ease Edith's legal burdens before she broke down and told her own side of the story, partly in anger over her husband's now famous affair with Danish Singer Nina van Pallandt.

Two members of the U.S. Attorney's office, Robert Morvillo and John Tigue Jr., consented to talk to Swiss authorities about leniency. But first Morvillo wanted to know one thing: did Irving intend to persist in his story that he had met with Hughes? Nessen stepped out into the hall to talk to Irving. When he returned, he said: "You won't have to call Hughes. There were no meetings with Hughes." "All right," said Morvillo, "but Irving should know that we'll break his balls before the grand jury if he says he met with Hughes."

Swiss Sanctum. Irving was willing to accept a prison term for fraud and perjury, and give his account of the entire scheme. The prosecutors were amenable to that, since if Irving took the Fifth Amendment, it might be difficult to track down the other conspirators. Morvillo and Tigue immediately flew to Zurich, where they tried to induce the Swiss to reduce their charges against Edith. They received a cool reception. For weeks Zurich Prosecutor Peter Veleff had been horrified by the publicity surrounding the case and by the lack of cooperation from U.S. legal authorities. The spectacle of Clifford and Edith blithely appearing on television was especially galling when she, a Swiss citizen, had been charged with—and had even admitted—that she violated the Swiss sanctum sanctorum, its banking system.

The Swiss would consider only one concession: if the Irvings would replace the $650,000 that Edith/Helga has cached in Zurich banks, then the Swiss government might consider accepting a guilty plea, upon which she could—possibly—receive a suspended sentence. For the Irvings, that amounted to no deal at all; they are believed to have spent about $100,000 of the money, and authorities have been unable to account for another $100,000.

Better Writing. In the midst of the Swiss negotiations, Irving's attention was diverted. Late on the night of his meeting at the U.S. Attorney's office, Irving received a telephone call at Nessen's office from TIME Correspondent Frank McCulloch. "I want to level with you," McCulloch said. "We've got the Phelan manuscript on the way to New York. Phelan's flying here with it, and we're going to lay it down alongside your manuscript in the morning and read them together."

There was a silence at the other end of the wire; then Irving said with a long, soft exhalation: "Woooowwww!"

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