While the world remains focused on Tiger Woods’ Florida estate waiting for the golfer or his wife Elin to emerge, the saga’s real drama this weekend played out quietly across the country: Tiger’s representatives have been furiously negotiating a deal with New York party girl Rachel Uchitel and her high-profile Los Angeles lawyer, Gloria Allred, and a person familiar with the details of the negotiations tells The Daily Beast that the payoff could be worth as much as $5 million.
The Uchitel deal, as currently drafted but not yet signed, spreads the payments over several years, insuring that she does not get a lump sum and then turn around and tell her story anyway. It follows the precedent established by Michael Jackson in 1993 when he stretched a $20 million settlement to a boy who claimed to have been molested over 20 annual payments.
This friend, from talks with Uchitel, believes that some of the messages contain expressions of real affection from Woods—perhaps even professing love to her or mentioning that he was considering leaving his wife.
• Gerald Posner: Inside Tiger’s Double Life The negotiations reflect how desperate Tiger is to keep Elin as far as possible out of the scandal. Two of Uchitel’s acquaintances who are familiar with her story tell me that she is prepared to publicly reveal telephone conversations she had with Tiger—and Elin—only hours before the accident. The one with Elin was evidently a screaming match in which Elin furiously confronted the woman who had just been named by the National Enquirer as her husband’s alleged mistress. These Uchitel acquaintances believe this is the price Tiger thinks he must pay to save his marriage.
• Full Tiger Woods scandal coverage A third acquaintance tells The Daily Beast that Uchitel has text messages and voicemail from Woods. This friend, from talks with Uchitel, believes that some of them contain expressions of real affection from Woods—perhaps even professing love to her or mentioning that he was considering leaving his wife. Such disclosures would likely be a marriage-ender for Woods. (Allred, reached by telephone on Sunday, had “no comment” on any aspect of the story about her client.)
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• The Daily Beast’s full Tiger coverageThe frantic effort to silence Uchitel also sheds light on a clandestine team that Woods has leaned on over the past few years to help him manage his dalliances. Over the course of numerous interviews over several days, The Daily Beast has pieced together a snapshot of Tiger’s double life. It’s a dichotomy that included two separate sets of employees: one that dealt with Tiger’s billion-dollar brand, and another to crisis-manage any fallout from extra marital affairs and personal indiscretions.
It’s the latter group that is handling the Uchitel negotiations. Tiger is a client of Lavely & Singer, a Los Angeles-based law firm that describes itself on its Web site as “one of the world's premiere talent-side entertainment litigation firms.” The firm represents Hollywood’s A-list, specializing in representing “clients against the tabloids and other media and Internet outlets in disputes which arise prior to, as well as after, the publication of articles which defame the clients or invade their privacy.” Just this weekend, Lavely & Singer obtained an injunction in a U.K. High Court barring any British newspaper or magazine from publishing nude pictures of Tiger. (The firm did not respond to a request for information or comment regarding Tiger.)
According to one former executive at American Media, the Enquirer’s parent company, it was Lavely & Singer who successfully intervened and convinced the tabloid to scuttle a 2007 story involving grainy photos of an early-morning parking lot rendezvous between Tiger and coffee shop waitress, Mindy Lawton.
Although everyone involved denies any quid pro quo, what is indisputable is that the press-shy Woods, who hasn’t given an in-depth interview since an embarrassing one in GQ in 1997, posed for a Men’s Fitness cover, including beefcake pics, and in which he provided “insider” tips on exercise, weightlifting, and diet. Men’s Fitness is owned by American Media, the same company that owns the Enquirer. At the time, Tiger was in the middle of an exclusive, multiyear, $2 million deal with Condé Nast’s Golf Digest, as their "playing editor." Woods had to ask and receive permission from Condé Nast to do the Men's Fitness cover.
The past few weeks haven’t proven so tidy. Behind the scenes, those managing the $100 million a year cash machine that was Tiger Inc. are now blaming each other over the damage done to their carefully crafted brand. Tiger has already lost a multimillion-dollar Gatorade sponsorship, and yesterday, after The Daily Beast first reported reported on December 9 that Gillette and Accenture were at risk, both firms severed or cut back on their ties with the golfer . Most key advisers were apparently almost as much in the dark as Elin Woods about the extent of his affairs, and feel that the people who did know that a story might break about Tiger’s personal life misjudged its seriousness. Even Mark Steinberg, Woods’ agent and friend, was caught flatfooted by Tiger’s reckless trail of evidence of his philandering: racy emails from his personal account; voice and text messages from his private cell; and possibly even compromising photos.
The Daily Beast has learned that the National Enquirer, whose story kicked off Tiger’s problems, called Uchitel between 10 and 12 days prior to publication and confronted her with what it had uncovered: an affair with the golfer since June. She denied it, and said she had only met Tiger once, possibly twice. At the time the Enquirer called, she was in Australia, where she had traveled with Woods’ boyhood friend, Bryon Bell, on a ticket paid for by one of Tiger’s companies, and had checked into the same hotel as the golfer. She was supposed to travel to Dubai next, where he was to play in a tournament, but after the call from the paper, returned hastily to Las Vegas. For its part, the Enquirer wanted to bring the matter to a head in Australia. Barry Levine, the Enquirer’s executive editor, who directed the reporting team, has told reporters that Dubai had draconian laws for paparazzi and that nailing the story in Australia was critical.
Within a day of calling Uchitel, The Daily Beast has learned, the Enquirer called Steinberg, who directed them immediately to Lavely. “It’s his way of creating distance between himself and the story,” says a person familiar with the calls between the Enquirer, Steinberg, and Lavely. “It gives Steinberg the ability to say he didn’t know about it later.”
The Enquirer considered Lavely to be Tiger’s “damage-control attorneys” and weren’t surprised Steinberg dropped out and directed them there. Jay Lavely informed the tabloid that he’d get in touch with Woods. A day later, Lavely told Barry Levine that the story was not true, and that Tiger had possibly met Uchitel only one time at a nightclub. It echoed what she had told the paper only a couple of days earlier, leading executives at the Enquirer to believe she had tipped Woods about the tabloid’s interest.
Forty-eight hours later, the Enquirer put out its next edition. There was no mention of Tiger, Uchitel, or the affair. The tabloid was still double-checking its information and doing further reporting. In the next week, it got proof that one of Tiger’s firms had paid for Uchitel’s travel to Australia. But the issue without any mention of Tiger evidently lulled Tiger Inc. into thinking that Lavely’s broad denial had killed the story.
What is clear is that neither agent, lawyers, or Tiger had any idea of what the Enquirer had compiled by that point: evidence of Uchitel’s flight, who paid for it, and a reporter had seen her check into Woods’ Australian hotel. The Enquirer had also given lie-detector tests to some of its sources, and they had all passed. A simple denial by Lavely was not going to stop the story.
Thinking the story dead, however, Tiger did not tell Elin about it. Instead, when the National Enquirer’s story came out a week later, a friend telephoned Elin to ask if she had seen it. That evidently kicked off her outrage, which ended in the now infamous car accident.
The other key person in Tiger’s secret life, multiple sources explain, was his childhood and occasional caddie Bell. Tiger was supposed to be Bell’s best man at the latter’s wedding this past weekend, but he was a no-show. Bell’s official roles have been with the Tiger Woods Foundation and later as president of Tiger Woods Design, which earned Woods a reported $25 million to $45 million when Dubai outbid China to land the first Tiger Woods-designed golf course and a luxury housing community dubbed “The Tiger Woods Dubai.” Bell also incorporated ETW Corp. in 1996, created to receive and distribute Tiger’s then-growing income (the initials stand for Earl and Tiger Woods). Among ETW’s current officers are Bell, Tiger, and Tiger’s mother. Attempts to reach Bell this weekend were unsuccessful.
Several news outlets have reported that Bell arranged some of the clandestine meetings with the girls, and covered up loose ends, lest they leak to Elin or the press. It was Bell who booked all the travel for Uchitel. What they haven’t reported is that in Orlando, Bell was his frequent companion at his favorite bars, the Blue Martini and 23. Woods and Bell spent so much time at 23, often in the company of pretty women, that some reports now say the Orlando watering hole had a private space reserved for him—The Tiger Room.
Gerald Posner is The Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter. He's the award-winning author of 10 investigative nonfiction bestsellers, on topics ranging from political assassinations, to Nazi war criminals, to 9/11, to terrorism. His latest book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, was published in October. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.