Former Enquirer reporter pleads guilty in Chiquita incident
OHIO–Mike Gallagher, the former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter fired in late June after allegedly tapping into the Chiquita company’s private voice-mails, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful interception of communications and one count of unauthorized access to voice-mail systems in late September in the Court of Common Pleas, Cincinnati.
Gallagher, who wrote a series of articles for the Enquirer on Chiquita Brands International that were published in early May, submitted pleas to the two felony charges in the Ohio court and is cooperating with the prosecution in the case, according to his attorney, Patrick Hanley.
The reporter was fired from his position at the Enquirer after the paper, in an apology that ran for three days beginning in late June, “renounced” the 18-page series about the Chiquita company. The stories questioned Chiquita’s Central American business dealings and included accusations of bribery in Colombia, pesticide practices which endangered workers’ health and the use of Chiquita ships to smuggle cocaine. The newspaper reportedly paid Chiquita more than $10 million as part of a confidential legal settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, Chiquita agreed not to sue the paper.
The agreement reached between Chiquita and the Enquirer, however, did not include protection for Gallagher. The reporter was sued by Chiquita for defamation, trespass, civil conspiracy, fraud and violation of laws prohibiting the interception of private telephone communications.
A special prosecutor appointed by the state of Ohio, the Hamilton County sheriff’s department and the FBI are all investigating the theft of the voice-mail messages.
According to an Associated Press report, in mid-September, George Ventura, a former Chiquita lawyer, was also indicted by the special prosecutor on five charges of unlawful interception of communications and five counts of unauthorized access to computer systems. Ventura pleaded not guilty.
The maximum sentence Gallagher faces is two-and-a-half years in prison and fines of $7,500. Sentencing is scheduled for mid-March 1999. Gallagher’s attorney would not comment further on the case. (Chiquita Brands International v. Gallagher; Gallagher’s Counsel: Patrick Hanley, Covington, Ky.)