Providence reporter sentenced to prison for failure to revea

Reply Thu 18 Nov, 2004 12:30 pm
Reporter Convicted for Protecting Source

By MICHAEL MELLO, Associated Press Writer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A television reporter was convicted of criminal contempt Thursday for refusing to say who gave him an FBI videotape showing a city official taking a bribe.

AP Photo

Jim Taricani, of WJAR-TV, faces up to six months in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 9 by U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres.

Taricani, 55, broke no law by repeatedly airing the tape, but a special prosecutor was appointed to find out who leaked it because the court had ordered attorneys, investigators and defendants not to disseminate any tapes connected to a federal corruption probe during former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr.'s administration.

The tape, which shows an undercover FBI informant giving a cash-stuffed envelope to top Cianci aide Frank Corrente, aired in 2001, two months before Cianci, Corrente and others were indicted in the investigation code-named "Operation Plunder Dome." Cianci and Corrente were convicted and are serving time in federal prison.

Torres has said the leak was meant to either disrupt the investigation or deprive defendants of a fair trial by influencing prospective jurors. He ordered Taricani to answer questions about the tape last fall, but Taricani refused, saying he has a First Amendment right to keep his sources confidential.

After his 45-minute trial Thursday, Taricani called the conviction an "assault on journalistic freedom" and said he never expected to have to behind bars for doing his job.

"I made a promise to my source, which I intend to keep," Taricani said.

In March, Torres found Taricani in civil contempt for refusing to disclose his source and imposed a $1,000-a-day fine until he did. WJAR, which is owned by NBC Universal Television Group, paid $85,000 for its reporter until judge suspended the fine two weeks ago, saying it had not achieved its goal.

Torres had said before Thursday's trial that he wouldn't sentence Taricani to more than six months in prison because of the reporter's health. Taricani underwent heart transplant surgery in 1996.

Taricani would be the first to serve time on a criminal contempt among a crop of reporters around the country to serve time on a criminal contempt charge. Around the nation, several reporters face possible fines or jail, including the cases of the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame and a lawsuit against the government by nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 18 Nov, 2004 12:32 pm
Judge Finds Taricani Guilty Of Criminal Contempt
Reporter Faces Up To Six Months In Prison

PROVIDENCE -- A federal judge on Thursday found News Channel 10 I-Team reporter Jim Taricani guilty of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal a confidential source.

Taricani has refused to identify the source of a videotape aired on WJAR more than three years ago that purportedly shows a city official taking a cash bribe. Although the tape was subject to a protective order, the broadcast of the tape was not illegal.

The videotape was used as evidence in the corruption trial of then-Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr.

Taricani and his lawyers argued before Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres that Taricani's good-faith belief in his conduct is a defense to the criminal contempt charge.

But special prosecutor Marc DeSisto argued there did not have to be proof of absence of good faith in order for Taricani to be found guilty.

In the end, the judge said the evidence is clear, overwhelming and undisputed that Taricani violated the court order and found him guilty of criminal contempt.

"When I became a reporter 30 years ago, I never imagined that I would be put on trial and face the prospect of going to jail simply for doing my job. Today, I was tried and convicted for refusing to identify the confidential source who gave me a videotape showing corruption in City Hall. On Dec. 9, I will be sentenced, possibly to jail," Taricani said, reading from a prepared statement outside court.

"The government has used its resources and power and the threat of jail to try to coerce me to identify a confidential source. This assault on journalistic freedom exacts a high price by stifling the flow of newsworthy information to reporters and to the public," he said.

Taricani faces up to six months in prison.

NBC 10 released the following statement:

NBC 10 is profoundly disappointed by the conviction of its investigative reporter, Jim Taricani, on criminal contempt charges.

A confidential source gave Jim a videotape that showed public corruption at City Hall. He has refused to identify the source of the tape, and now may go to jail for keeping this word. Maintaining a promise of confidentiality has been critical to Jim's success as a reporter.

Throughout his 30-year career, Jim has broken stories on the mob, public corruption and crime. Many of these reports might not have seen the light of day if Jim did not have confidential sources who were willing to risk their reputations, their jobs, even their lives to come forward and provide him with important information that the public had a right to know. If Jim cannot rely upon confidential sources, the citizens of Rhode Island will be denied the hard-hitting, investigative journalism that they have come to expect from Jim over the decades of reporting in the state.

Jim Taricani, a respected journalist and heart-transplant recipient, should not be treated as a criminal for doing his job. NBC 10 has stood by him and supports his decision to not to disclose his source. No reporter should have to pay such a terribly high price for honestly and legally reporting the news.
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