A lawyer investigating a grand jury leak turned to Pennsylvania state legislative staffers to get the cell phone numbers of at least eight reporters already subpoenaed in the case, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow said it was a routine constituent service for his staff to help attorney Sal Cognetti find cell numbers of reporters subpoenaned in an investigation involving his client.
Cognetti represents a Catholic priest who, along with casino owner Louis A. DeNaples, is accused of lying under oath to authorities.
"A constituent asked openly for something. There is nothing backhanded, no sleight of hand, nothing deceiving about it," Mellow told the The Inquirer.
But Scott K. Baker, general counselor for The Inquirer’s parent publishing firm Philadelphia Media Holdings, had a different take: "We consider these attempts to obtain our reporters’ cell-phone numbers as further evidence of the DeNaples and [Rev. Joseph] Sica defense team’s intent to harass members of the media."
Two of the subpoenaed journalists also said Thursday they had been called by someone falsely identifying himself as a reporter with a Pittsburgh newspaper, asking for their cell phones. When pressed for more information, they said, the man hung up the phone.
DeNaples’ defense team subpoenaed 15 journalists last month as part of Dauphin County Judge Todd A. Hoover’s probe into leaks that cropped up in the news during the original grand jury investigation.
Tasked with deciding whether to order up a special prosecutor to look further into the leaks, Hoover has already quashed the portions of the subpoenas that demanded reporters hand over their notes. He has yet to rule on whether the journalists must testify in court.
According to The Inquirer, lawyers linked to the case "speculated that if members of the DeNaples team were able to obtain phone records from police or prosecutors, they could search those calls for the reporters’ cell-phone numbers — thus identifying who might have leaked information."
DeNaples and Sica were charged in January with perjury. Authorities claim DeNaples lied about mob connections to help his bid for a gaming license. The reverend is accused of lying to a grand jury about his relationship with a mobster.
Both have pleaded not guilty.