DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Drunk

"Big Brother 3" Booze Bust

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"Big Brother 3" Booze Bust

***UPDATE: One week after her banishment from the "Big Brother 3" house, Chiara Berti pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor drunk driving charge. On August 30, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sentenced Berti to three years probation, fined her $1191, and ordered Berti to attend a three-month alcohol awareness program. The 25-year-old also has to take part in California's Hospital and Morgue program (H.A.M.), which brings participants to the L.A. coroner's office for an up close look at mangled bodies from car crashes, gunshot victims, etc. In addition, restrictions will be placed on Berti's driver's license so that she will only be allowed to drive to and from work.

JULY 22--In another black eye for reality TV, a contestant on"Big Brother 3" got arrested in late-May for drunk driving, but was still included in the cast of the CBS prime-time show, which debuted earlier this month, The Smoking Gun has learned.

In fact, while the pending criminal case against contestant Chiara Berti was scheduled for arraignment last Friday morning (7/19) in Los Angeles Superior Court, the 25-year-old New York woman was ensconced with her fellow cast mates in the Big Brother house on the grounds of CBS's Studio City compound, just six-miles--and 13 minutes--from the Van Nuys courthouse where Berti's case was called at 9:35 AM.

Berti was arrested by California Highway Patrol officers at 2:40 AM on Sunday, May 26. She spent about five hours in custody at the Van Nuys jail before being released on $2500 bail. On June 11, Berti was formally charged with three misdemeanors: driving under the influence, driving with a blood alcohol content above California's .08 limit, and driving without a license. Her attorney, Sherman Ellison, told TSG that Berti's case was "very likely to settle,"lawyer speak for "she'll probably take a plea."

Ellison said he believed Berti got arrested while she was in Los Angeles for the final stages of the Big Brother audition/screening process. Ellison recalled that following Berti's arrest, a lawyer representing Big Brother expressed concern to him that the drunk driving case could "have interfered with her availability for the program." Ellison said that he assured the show's representative that the criminal matter would not be a hindrance since he would be able to appear in Berti's stead at court hearings. CBS officially announced the "Big Brother 3" cast on July 5.

Berti's arraignment was originally set for June 20,but, at Ellison's request, was postponed a month(Berti was not present for the June appearance in Van Nuys). Last Friday, when Berti's case was called, Ellison asked Judge Alvin Nierenberg if he could approach the bench. Joined by prosecutor Harvey Crespy, the trio had a whispered, off-the-record discussion, one that clearly dealt with Berti's unavailability and Ellison's desire for another continuance (at one point, a TSG reporter heard Ellison say, "Survivor-type series").

After Nierenberg suggested rescheduling the arraignment for August 28, Ellison asked for more time, noting, "Please, for September, to be safe."Nierenberg rejected Ellison's request for a September 9 appearance, instead scheduling Berti's arraignment for September 3. The judge noted, "First a month and then more and more. You want five, then six. I'm not adepartment store, please don't. Make sure she's back and bring in proper documents." But Berti's availability for her September 3 arraignment will, of course, hinge on the marketing executive's "Big Brother 3" success, since the show does not end until early-October, when the last remaining houseguest is awarded $500,000.

Though the CBS show only debuted July 10 (the one-hour episodes air on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays),it is already pretty clear why the network and executive producer Arnold Shapiro tabbed Berti (despite herpending criminal charges). Like most houseguests, she is young, attractive, and not averse to scheming. In just two short weeks, TV viewers (and fans watching 24/7 coverage broadcast on the Internet)have seen Berti shower with another woman, frolic topless, and share her bed with a stud named Roddy.

In short, the Northeastern grad seems to be a dream contestant. Though, in a Q&A on the CBS web site,Berti acknowledged some apprehension about being placed in the TV spotlight. Asked about her "biggest fear" regarding the program, Berti replied, "The exposure is something I am definitely not used to.Although I am pretty open about stuff, I fear whatmight get out."

During last year's Big Brother run, contestant Justin Sebik was booted from the show after he put a knife to the throat of a drunken female contestant and asked--he says jokingly--"Would you mind if I killed you?" After his expulsion, it was learned that Sebik had been arrested five times (three busts for simple assault), though in each case charges were dropped.

TSG disclosed that two of the show's central contestants--Mike Malin and Hardy Hill--had rap sheets. Malin pleaded no contest in 1997 to three misdemeanors stemming from his scheme to infiltrate a Hollywood studio and surreptitiously obtain video and photographs of a top secret movie production. Malin was sentenced to three years probation, fined $100, and ordered to perform 400 hours of community service. Hill was nabbed in Pennsylvania in 1999 for driving under the influence (his blood alcohol level was .196, nearly twice the state's legal limit). He was placed on probation for one year, fined, directed to perform 35 hours of community service, and ordered to attend "DUI classes" and a "victim impact panel."