Tall Tales In This Bestseller?

James Frey mug shot smoking gun
Oprah Winfrey said James Frey's account of his life of drug addiction, jail and crime kept her awake at night. Frey's publisher called the book "intense, unpredictable, and instantly engaging."

The book has sold more than three million copies and has topped the New York Times' paperback nonfiction bestseller list for the past 15 weeks. Sales received a major boost last October when Frey appeared on Winfrey's popular TV show to talk about the book.

But was the dramatic life of James Frey partly the product of Frey's imagination? That's the claim made by the investigative Web site The Smoking Gun.

The Smoking Gun said court and police records as well as interviews it conducted — including conversations with Frey — suggest that some of the most dramatic episodes in Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces," appear to be far from true to life.

Most notably, the Smoking Gun disputed Frey's account of an episode portrayed as a turning point in his life. The author described a violent, drug-fueled clash with police in Granville, Ohio, that was touched off when he struck a patrolman with his car.

Frey said he shouted several expletives at officers and refused to get out of the car during the 1992 encounter with police. Frey also said he beat and was beaten by police before being hauled off to jail. As a result, Frey wrote, he faced a spate of serious criminal charges and the prospect of years behind bars.

But The Smoking Gun reported that Frey was only given two traffic tickets and a summons for possessing an open can of beer. The police report said Frey had been "polite and cooperative" at all times. The arresting officer said Frey had only come his attention because Frey's car was parked illegally. And the officer denied that Frey hit him with the vehicle.

The Web site reports that Frey spent a few hours in police custody before being released on a bond of $733. The Smoking Gun obtained and posted online the 1992 Ohio police report detailing the incident. Tuesday, USA Today independently confirmed the authenticity of it and other legal documents on the Web site.

Frey posted this response to the Smoking Gun report on his Web site: "So let the haters hate, let the doubters doubt, I stand by my book, and my life, and I won't dignify this bull---- with any sort of further response."

The Smoking Gun questioned other assertions in Frey's book, including his claim to have been a bad kid in high school. The author told Oprah Winfrey that parents would tell their children to "Stay away from Jimmy Frey. He's trouble."

Reporters from The Smoking Gun interviewed a high school classmate of Frey's who lived across the street from the author. Paul Santarlas described Frey as a "normal guy."

"I never saw anything that stood out," Santarlas said of Frey, according to The Smoking Gun.

The Web site said Frey's original manuscript was rejected by 17 publishers before being accepted by Doubleday. According to the New York Observer, Frey originally tried to sell the book as a work of fiction.

"Frey's tall tales would, of course, be pretty funny if so many people didn't actually believe them," The Smoking Gun said on its Web site.

The Smoking Gun is known for publishing mug shots, meaty rap sheets of mobsters and government documents. Smoking Gun Editor William Bastone said a routine inquiry touched off the Web site's investigation.

"We received an e-mail from a reader in November asking us to get a mug shot of Frey, since the reader had just finished (his book)," Bastone said. "When our initial inquiries turned up nothing, our curiosity was piqued and we took a careful look at the book and tried to confirm or disprove anything for which we thought there might be a public record — police report, court files, etc."

By Christine Lagorio