Harassment charges against reporter dropped

Feature | April 7, 1997

Harassment charges against reporter dropped

04/07/97

NEW YORK--Aggravated harassment charges filed against a former reporter for the Amsterdam Recorder for allegedly threatening a source with a lawsuit were dismissed in mid-March.

The charges were filed by Peter Zabo, the president of a local development group. He had complained to the newspaper that Teresa Cuda was harassing him and maintained that she had called him and said that she would hold him liable if she lost her job because of his complaints. In his statement Zabo said "[Cuda] continued to harass me over something I never said. This has to stop." Zabo also requested that a protective order be placed against her "for the sole purpose to leave me alone." The harassment charges were dismissed on the grounds that Cuda's alleged threat did not constitute a crime.

Cuda had been covering the activities of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., a private company contracting with the county to boost local business, for almost a year. Her latest reporting had focussed on an investigation by the local sheriff into possible financial mismanagement by the EDC.

In late January, she called Zabo, president of the Main Street Alliance, an offshoot of the Montgomery County EDC, to question him about some of the group's financial dealings and his involvement in a recent ethics complaint filed against an Amsterdam supervisor by Helene Pelicone, a former Recorder columnist.

Zabo subsequently complained to Kevin McClary, the general manager of the newspaper, and later alleged that Cuda had called him again and threatened to sue him for slander if she lost her job because of his complaint. Cuda denies making any such threat. She was fired soon after. McClary told the Daily Gazette that he fired Cuda because of her unprofessional conduct, not her reporting. Cuda, however, maintains that she was fired primarily because of her intense coverage of the EDC.

A week later, Cuda went to testify before the Montgomery County Ethics Advisory Board and was told she could not enter the building because Zabo had been granted a protection order against her and was attending the hearing. She was eventually allowed in under police escort.

The ethics board had been conducting a probe requested by Pelicone into whether City Supervisor James Cuozzo had conspired with other EDC supporters to give a loan to the Recorder in return for the dismissal of Tony Benjamin, the Executive Director. Pelicone was herself dismissed soon after writing a column attesting to the fact that Benjamin was a good editor and that the people at the EDC had done the public a disservice by getting him fired.

When asked by an Albany weekly if she is considering civil action against Zabo or the paper, Cuda responded that she didn't know, adding, "isn't that harassment if I say I will?" (People of the State of New York v. Cuda; Defense Counsel: Mark Juda, Amsterdam)