SAN JOSE -- Deluged with congratulatory messages after his wife's accusations were exposed as lies and criminal charges against him were dismissed, multimillionaire Clyde Berg had been too worn out Monday night to celebrate his vindication and so crawled into bed instead.
"I've aged 10 years (in the past year) because of what she and the DA have put me through,'' the 74-year-old real estate mogul said in his Western drawl.
But by Tuesday afternoon, the feisty septuagenarian had rebounded enough to talk about his options for redeeming his sullied reputation and to right what he sees as an injustice by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. They range from asking prosecutors to charge his now-estranged wife with extortion to getting her civil lawsuit against him kicked out of court.
In September, his 37-year-old wife Ellena Berg had accused him of committing a horrific crime -- outfitting her while she was nine months pregnant with a spiked dog collar and leash, chaining her at gunpoint to a bed for two days and sexually assaulting her with a golf putter.
In emails, letters and dozens of phone calls to prosecutors ever since his arrest, Clyde Berg insisted that his wife was mentally ill and urged them to drop the charges. All along, he refused to even broach the subject of a plea bargain, saying he "never lifted one finger against her.''
He also refused to settle a civil lawsuit Ellena Berg filed after his arrest, claiming he had physically and sexually abused her for a decade and seeking punitive damages from his $200-million-plus fortune.
"I've been falsely accused, jailed, kicked out of my house and had my dog taken away from me,'' Berg said before he was cleared. "I won't lay down for the injustice.''
After a weeklong preliminary hearing fraught with twists and turns, prosecutors moved Monday to dismiss the charges. Judge Ron M. Del Pozzo concurred, deeming Ellena Berg's accusations as "not worthy of belief'' and "ridiculous.'' Clyde Berg had faced two felony charges -- corporal punishment of a spouse and penetration by a foreign object while the victim is tied and bound -- which could have put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
The ordeal -- including nine days in jail and having a GPS unit attached to his ankle for months -- was an eye-opener for Berg, who is so politically conservative he marks his checks with a bright red anti-Obama rubber stamp.
But now, when talking about the criminal justice system, he sounds like an advocate for the poor. The District Attorney's Office, he says, threw the book at him without thoroughly investigating the case in hopes he'd plead guilty to lesser charges.
"It's what they've done to all people who can't (afford to) defend themselves,'' he said. "The majority of people did something wrong, but what about the ones who didn't?''
Prosecutors said they were caught in a catch-22 situation and had to conduct a preliminary hearing to gather information about the victim before deciding whether or not to proceed with the charges.
The problem, they said, was that Ellena Berg hired her own criminal defense attorney -- at her husband's expense -- and then refused to allow prosecutors to interview her before the preliminary hearing. She claimed she was too traumatized to tell her story more than once, which is her constitutional prerogative under a victim's rights statute called Marsy's Law.
In addition, prosecutor Alison Filo said, Clyde Berg's attorneys didn't provide "any real affirmative evidence'' that he was innocent. For instance, she said, her office didn't know he had passed a lie-detector test, which is still not part of the official court record, until they read it in this newspaper.
Berg fiercely disputes that, saying his lawyers and friends offered ample proof. To assess Ellena Berg's credibility, Filo says, the office had to "flush it out in the most public of forums,'' open court. In addition, sources familiar with the case said, Ellena Berg's lawyers urged prosecutors not to bow to pressure from a rich and powerful man.
The allegations may have been serious enough to warrant taking it to a preliminary hearing. But there's also this reality, as expressed in a jocular way by one of Berg's attorneys, Allen Ruby: "When a defendant loses a case, he goes to jail. When prosecutors lose a case, they go to lunch.''
Clyde Berg said Tuesday he was worried prosecutors will refile the charges. But Filo said that is unlikely in the he-said-she-said case.
"With the current state of the evidence,'' she said, "I can't imagine us refiling.''
What about Rudy?
Now, it is Berg who finds himself in a bit of a bind. He has been extremely critical of District Attorney Jeff Rosen and his administration, vowing to financially back a viable candidate against him. But Tuesday, knowing he may need the office's cooperation to prosecute his wife, he declined to discuss his plans on the political front. The couple is in the midst of divorcing.
Berg is weighing whether to have his attorneys ask District Attorney Jeff Rosen to charge her with extortion (for falsely accusing him and also claiming he signed a generous postnuptial agreement). He also is exploring whether she can be charged with theft (for allegedly removing three new TVs, a fur coat, 12 chairs and other items from his home during the five to six months after the arrest when a family-court judge kicked him out of the house and let her live there alone).
He has three other immediate goals.
He needs to find out if the daughter Ellena gave birth to six days after the alleged incident is his or not. She has gone back and forth about it, saying in court both that the father is a top ballroom dancer in the Bay Area who donated sperm, and that her husband could be the father.
He also still faces the allegations in her 43-page civil suit, though he expects it will eventually be dropped or dismissed, now that a judge has ruled she fabricated the bizarre incident. His wife's lawyer resigned Tuesday from her divorce case. But the tycoon's reputation is still being vulnerable. Tuesday, the British tabloid press published photos provided by his wife's lawyers of Ellena Berg while she was lying in her hospital bed after the ersatz incident, her face red with what appears to be blood.
Clyde Berg's most immediate concern is his beloved dog Rudy Valentino. A family law judge gave Ellena Berg custody of the pet after she alleged in great detail that he abused the animal. But Clyde Berg's friends say the plump Weimaraner and the mogul were inseparable buddies, even on the golf course, and he has been distraught without him.
"We filed this morning,'' Berg said, "to get Rudy back.''
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.