Talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh is being investigated for allegedly buying thousands of addictive painkillers from a black-market drug ring.
The moralizing motormouth was turned in by his former housekeeper - who says she was Limbaugh's pill supplier for four years.
Wilma Cline, 42, says Limbaugh was hooked on the potent prescription drugs OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone - and went through detox twice.
"There were times when I worried," Cline told the National Enquirer, which broke the story in an edition being published today. "All these pills are enough to kill an elephant - never mind a man."
Cline could not be reached for further comment yesterday, but her lawyer, Ed Shohat of Miami, said his client "stands behind the story."
The Daily News independently confirmed that Limbaugh is under investigation.
His lawyers, Jerry Fox and Dan Zachary, refused to comment on the accusations and said any "medical information" about him was private and not newsworthy.
They said Limbaugh - who has a top-rated syndicated radio show but resigned early today from a weekly ESPN football segment amid criticism of racial comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb - was traveling and had no comment.
The Palm Beach County state attorney's office, which is running the probe, said it could not confirm or deny the allegations.
Scoring in parking lot
Cline told the Enquirer she went to prosecutors with information about Limbaugh and others after four years of drug deals that included clandestine handoffs in a Denny's parking lot.
She said she wore a wire during her last two deliveries to the conservative commentator and gave the tapes to authorities.
She also gave the Enquirer a ledger documenting how many pills she claimed to have bought for him - 4,350 in one 47-day period - and E-mails she claimed Limbaugh sent her.
In one missive, Limbaugh pushed Cline to get more "little blues" - code for OxyContin, the powerful narcotic nicknamed hillbilly heroin, she said.
"You know how this stuff works ... the more you get used to, the more it takes," the May 2002 E-mail reads. "But I will try and cut down to help out."
The account Cline gave the Enquirer is that she became Limbaugh's drug connection in 1998, nine months after taking a housekeeping job at his Palm Beach mansion.
It started after her husband, David, hurt himself in a fall, and Limbaugh asked how he was.
"He asked me casually, 'Is he getting any pain medication?' I said, 'Yes - he's had surgery, and the doctor gave him hydro-codone 750,'" Cline said. "To my astonishment, he said, 'Can you spare a couple of them?'"
Cline said she gave Limbaugh 10 pills the next day and agreed to give him 30 of her husband's pills each month. When the doctor stopped renewing the prescription in early 1999, Limbaugh allegedly went ballistic.
"His tone was nasty and bullying. He said, 'I don't care how or what you do, but you'd better - better! - get me some more,'" Cline said.
The housekeeper said she found a new supplier and arranged to hide Limbaugh's stashes under his mattress so his wife, Marta, wouldn't find them.
After several months, Limbaugh told her he was going to New York for detox and didn't need any more pills, Cline said.
But a month later, he said his left ear was hurting and asked her for hydrocodone, followed by an order for OxyContin.
Limbaugh, 52, suffered from autoimmune ear disease, a condition that left him deaf and had to be corrected with cochlear implant surgery two years ago.
Cline said she continued to make deliveries to Limbaugh even after she quit as his housekeeper in July 2001 - but he became increasingly paranoid, even patting her down for recording devices, she said.
In June 2002, Limbaugh told her he was going to New York for detox a second time.
After he returned, "I went to talk to him, and he cried a little bit," she said. "He told me that if it ever got out, he would be ruined."
She claimed that a lawyer for Limbaugh gave her a payoff - $80,000 he owed her, plus another $120,000 - and asked her to destroy the computer that contained the E-mail records.
Soon after, Cline and her husband retained Shohat and contacted prosecutors.
Feeling no pain
The drugs Rush Limbaugh is accused of abusing are legal only with a doctor's prescription. All are habit-forming.
Anti-cough agent and painkiller similar to morphine. Side effects include anxiety, poor mental performance, emotional dependence, drowsiness, mood changes, difficulty breathing and itchiness.