updated 4/7/2006 7:13:25 AM ET 2006-04-07T11:13:25

A gossip writer for the New York Post has been suspended pending the outcome of a federal investigation into whether he tried to extort money from billionaire financier Ron Burkle, the newspaper said Thursday.

Jared Paul Stern, who worked as a freelancer for the newspaper's Page Six column, is suspected of demanding $100,000 and an annual $10,000 stipend from Burkle in exchange for not writing negative stories about him, the Post said in a story on its Web site.

Stern sometimes worked two days a week at the Post, its editor-in-chief, Col Allen, said in a statement.

"Should the allegations prove true, Mr. Stern's conduct would be morally and journalistically reprehensible, a gross abuse of privilege, and in violation of the New York Post's standards and ethics," Allen said in the statement.

A spokeswoman for the Post, part of News Corp., declined to elaborate on the newspaper's report. FBI spokeswoman Christine Monaco declined to comment.

There was no answer at a telephone number listed for a Jared Paul Stern in New York City; a message left at another number listed under that name in New York state was not immediately returned Thursday night.

Burkle, of California, is one of the world's richest men, with an estimated personal wealth of more than $2 billion.

A lawyer for Burkle said Thursday she wasn't authorized to speak for him and referred calls to his company, The Yucaipa Cos. LLC, based in Los Angeles. A telephone message left at Yucaipa's legal department after business hours wasn't immediately returned.

Burkle in February joined forces with union workers at nine Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers in an effort to buy the group. Yucaipa teamed with the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, which had been looking for investors to help with the acquisition.

Yucaipa also is known for its investments in supermarkets, including Food4Less, Dominick's, Ralphs Grocery Co., Smith's Food & Drug Stores and Fred Meyer.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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