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WEST PALM BEACH, FL — Three million dollars: That's the price a housekeeper's daughter allegedly demanded from her mother's former employer, the family that founded Claire's accessories stores.
In exchange, Camille Brown said she would return dozens of allegedly incriminating letters written by Sylvia Schaefer, the wife of Claire's founder Rowland Schaefer, according to newly released audio tapes.
That exchange never happened. This week, Florida police have released audio recordings that they say detail a case of extortion.
According to police, it all started when the Schaefers fired their longtime housekeeper, Coleen Parkes, who was released after she said she would no longer clean up after the caretakers of the elderly Schaefers. Parkes had worked for the family for 15 years, according to the police documents.
The Schaefers, now in their 90s, made millions from Claire's, a staple in many American shopping malls known for enticing teenage girls with its inexpensive jewelry and other accessories.
Days after her mother was fired, Camille Brown, 32, e-mailed the Schaefers' daughter, Bonnie, saying that she had more than 50 letters written by Sylvia Schaefer and that she was ready to sell them to the "highest bidder."
In the e-mail -- which was released as part of court documents -- she asked Bonnie Schaefer for a "commitment to protecting your family's name and reputation of your father."
Bonnie Schaefer arranged a meeting with the housekeeper's daughter at a hotel lobby on October 2. Camille Brown thought she was meeting with a family representative, but she was actually talking to a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The undercover agent, James Born, wore a wire and recorded his conversation with Brown. On the audio recordings, he can be heard asking, "What do you feel is fair to get the correspondence back? That's what we really want to know."
Brown responds by saying, "I feel fair market value is fair." When pressed for an amount, Brown showed the agent an index card with $3,000,000 written on it, according to court documents.
"Three million dollars?" Born replies.
"That amount is sufficient based on what I have," she responds. When Born says that the family isn't going to agree to $3 million, Brown says, "That's like the minimum. I can go higher but nothing lower."
As Brown attempts to leave, Born asks about paying in installments, and they set up a second meeting to finalize the agreement.
The terms of an agreement were reached at that second meeting on October 9 and signed by both parties.
The agreement that Brown signed reads, "For the total payment of $3,000,000 in US currency demanded by Camille Brown, all efforts to coerce, control, blackmail or extort the Schaefer family or any associated businesses will end and not be resumed."
The agreement also said that in exchange for the money, Brown would hand over the family documents.
As Brown left the hotel, she was arrested on one count of extortion.
Brown has maintained her innocence.
"Ms. Brown intends to take this case to trial and to present incontrovertible evidence proving that she never tried to blackmail, bribe or extort the Schaefers into buying the letters that were lawfully hers," her attorney Guy Fronstin told CNN in an e-mail.
In the original e-mail Brown sent to Bonnie Schaefer, she said that the letters were given to her by Sylvia Schaefer.
The Schaefer family attorney disputes that.
"We filed a civil suit to get those letters back, so it's the family's position that she didn't lawfully obtain those letters," attorney William Shepherd said. He said the case is about taking advantage of an elderly couple.
Until a court rules otherwise, the letters that Brown claims she has will remain in her possession. Brown's trial on the extortion charge is scheduled for June 24, and she faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
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