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LEELA de KRETSER - August 14, 2005

A British newspaper reports today that bad-boy actor Russell Crowe is set to pay $11 million to the SoHo hotel clerk he hit with a telephone.

The astronomical payout is believed to be part of a settlement that would save Crowe from facing criminal charges - and allow him to keep working in the United States, the Daily Mail says.

The New Zealand-born star was arrested in June and charged with hurling a telephone at clerk Nestor Estrada while staying at SoHo's trendy Mercer Hotel.

Angry that he couldn't get an outside line to call Australia to speak to his son, Crowe flung the phone and then a vase at the clerk's head, leaving Estrada with a cut to the cheek.

According to the paper, Estrada is close to signing an $11 million agreement to drop all charges against the actor and shun media interviews.

"The security video is damning and would become public if [the case enters] the courtroom," the newspaper quotes a source close to Crowe as saying.

"It is almost certain that Russell would be found guilty and this would have a near-fatal effect on his career.

"Not only could he be prevented from shooting movies in the [United States], but it would also prevent him from undertaking publicity tours or even attending awards shows such as the Oscars.

"He absolutely needs this to go away, and it will."

Crowe was due to appear in a Manhattan court Sept. 14 on charges of assault and possession of a weapon.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of eight years in jail and a criminal record for Crowe that could end his chances of getting visas to the U.S. for acting gigs.

If Estrada withdraws the charges and refuses to give evidence, it is likely Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau would drop the case, the Daily Mail said.

The newspaper reported the security tape held by the DA shows Crowe attacking Estrada with the phone, then hurling a vase at him before giving a bizarre bow.

Estrada's lawyer, Eric Franz, said a statement from his client on the matter would be released soon.

Crowe, who was seen watching a soccer game in Australia yesterday, was unavailable for comment.