SAN JOSE -- At age 74, with a net worth of more than $200 million, real estate developer Clyde Berg should be basking in his success. Instead, he has been charged with a horrific crime that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life -- outfitting his pregnant wife 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.

Police responding to her 911 call last fall found a bruised and bloodied Ellena Berg, 37, tied up in a bedroom of the couple's spacious home overlooking the fourth hole at the San Jose Country Club. They swiftly arrested Clyde Berg, setting in motion a sordid but so far unpublicized case that raises difficult questions about the standard of justice for the rich and powerful in Silicon Valley.

Ellena Berg maintains in a civil suit, filed since her husband's arrest, that throughout their 10-year marriage Clyde Berg wielded his considerable power against her like "a weapon of mass destruction." She says she lived in virtual isolation "as a slave" in fear of his unpredictable physical and sexual abuse.

But to hear Clyde Berg tell it, he's the real victim -- of a greedy scam aimed at getting around a restrictive prenuptial agreement. His denials might seem predictable, but he has mustered some supporting evidence, including gynecological reports that arguably show Ellena Berg did not sustain the degree of sexual abuse she asserts.

"It's a total lie," Clyde Berg said. "I never touched her, not one finger. They probably thought I'd cave in and make them an offer (to settle the matter). But you've got to stand up for your principles."

Ellena Berg and her lawyers declined to comment.

The case presents yet another challenge for Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, who just grappled with a suspected crime involving another rich and powerful man, 49ers star linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Clyde Berg is the brother and business partner of billionaire Carl Berg, one of the richest people in the United States. The two developed campuses for many of the valley's signature companies and recently sold their firm for $1.3 billion.

Real estate magnate Clyde Berg and his dog, Rudy, in November 2010 in Los Gatos. Courtesy Clyde Berg
Real estate magnate Clyde Berg and his dog, Rudy, in November 2010 in Los Gatos. Courtesy Clyde Berg

In the Brooks case, Rosen's office wrestled with whether to file assault charges and ultimately declined in part because the accuser had asked Brooks for $1 million. The decision was criticized by some as catering to the rich, but others viewed it as fair.

The Berg case involves far more serious accusations, including the politically explosive issue of domestic violence. While Clyde Berg has chipped away at some of the evidence against him, and his wife, like Brooks' accuser, also stands to profit from her civil case, there is material to support the charges, including the condition she was found in and a slew of threatening emails, which he denies sending to her.

"We have evidence that a crime was committed," said deputy district attorney Alison Filo, who is handling the case, "and at this point, we believe it's our obligation to press forward with that."

Clyde Berg is free on $3 million bail, released after a judge expressed some skepticism about how Ellena Berg managed to call 911 with her hands cuffed behind her back. Clyde Berg was ordered to wear a GPS tracking device until recently, when he became incapacitated from a knee infection.

The real estate magnate originally faced a handful of felony charges, including torture. But the DA dropped the torture charge, possibly in light of the medical evidence. Still, that leaves charges of corporal injury of a spouse and sexual penetration by force, which carry a sentence of more than 15 years to life.

Later this month, a judge is expected to decide whether there is enough evidence to hold Clyde Berg over for trial. During the two-day preliminary hearing, Ellena Berg's credibility as a witness will be pivotal for both the prosecution and the judge to decide whether to move forward or dismiss the charges. Ellena Berg, a native of Sweden, met Clyde Berg while working in Monte Sereno as an au pair.

The case is being fought in three legal arenas: criminal and civil court, as well as family court because Ellena Berg has filed for divorce. She also obtained a restraining order against Clyde Berg and has custody of Rudy, the couple's beloved Weimaraner, whom she claimed was abused by Clyde Berg.

Along with possible prison time, the financial stakes involved in the case are enormous. Clyde Berg has paid more than $1.5 million for his legal fees, as well as his wife's, and is also paying $25,000 a month to support her and her infant daughter, who is not his child.

Ellena Berg's monthly budget includes $1,500 for eating out (on top of money for groceries), $6,300 for child care and $1,750 for clothing, according to documents from family court.

In her civil suit, Ellena Berg accuses her husband of being an "absolute monster" who forced her to drink out of the dog's water bowl, made her crawl on her hands and knees with a trash bag full of garbage in her mouth and dunked her head into the toilet after she vomited from morning sickness. The suit contains photos that display some of the suspected injuries.

A critical element of all the court cases is a pair of documents: an extremely restrictive prenuptial agreement, and a disputed "postnup" that upends its terms.

When Clyde Berg married Ellena, his third wife, the two agreed in writing not to have children. Ellena Berg, the prenup says, could expect only $1 million of her husband's fortune, and then only if he died.

Ellena Berg contends the two later signed a generous postnuptial agreement, without Clyde Berg consulting a lawyer, granting her $10 million upon his death and $2 million if they divorce. In addition, the document -- which Ellena Berg has produced in the form of a copy with a slightly blurry signature from her husband -- lets her begin fertility treatments using a known sperm donor and promises to pay all the child's expenses.

She says her husband changed his mind about the postnup in September and demanded the original, which has since disappeared. Three days later, on Sept. 4, Clyde Berg allegedly thrust a revolver in her face and tied her to the bed.

Clyde Berg argues that the postnup is a fake, his signature a forgery. He insists he has passed a lie-detector test showing he never signed such a document, and says he certainly wouldn't have agreed to it without a lawyer.

The mutual accusations go on from there, in excruciating and seemingly vindictive detail. Whatever the outcome of the criminal or civil cases, both Bergs are being thoroughly sullied in the process.

Ellena Berg's lawsuit, for instance, asserts that her husband isolated her from friends and family as part of his "twisted control." However, it doesn't explain how, during the same period, she was able to train for and compete in West Coast swing contests with other men.

Clyde Berg maintains that his wife has mental problems, and that she had to be involuntarily committed twice during their marriage. He also notes that she was arrested on suspicion of assaulting him, but the case was later dropped because he declined to press charges. Ellena Berg contends in her lawsuit that her husband engineered the commitments and the arrest.

But Clyde Berg has had prior run-ins with the system.

In his home state of New Mexico in the 1960s, Berg acknowledged, he was acquitted of manslaughter after he punched a man who picked a fight with him, causing him to keel over and hit his head, he said.

In the 1970s, he picked up a woman he didn't know was a prostitute and, after he refused to pay her, she accused him of rape. He was arrested, but the charges were dropped after she received a threatening phone call and declined to press charges, according to the police report.

Still, Berg's friends and associates stand by him. His second wife, to whom he was married for 25 years, told this newspaper that he was never abusive to her. And others say the picture emerging from Ellena Berg's suit is not the man they know.

"Never ever, ever would Clyde do this," said Carl Warden, a retired entrepreneur. "This is the biggest farce."

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.