The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press will join other news organizations in coming months to advocate for a federal shield law in the aftermath of today’s sentencing of a Rhode Island TV reporter to six months confinement.
After a day-long hearing, U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres ordered Channel 10 reporter Jim Taricani confined to his home. Taricani was convicted of criminal contempt Nov. 18 and sentenced this evening for refusing to reveal the source of a leaked FBI videotape showing a Providence , R.I., official taking a bribe from a government informant.
“It’s very disheartening to know that a journalist can be sentenced for a crime for doing his job — and doing it well,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “We have a climate where sources will only reveal sensitive information in exchange for anonymity, and where prosecutors are zealously try to identify the sources. It’s obvious that we need to go to Congress for the same type of protection for sources found in state courts in 49 states and the District of Columbia.”
As conditions of the confinement, Taricani is denied Internet access and will not be able to give interviews. He was sent directly home without making a statement and may petition the court for early release after four months.
Taricani could have been sentenced to as long as six months in federal prison, but special prosecutor Marc DeSisto agreed to home confinement because of Taricani’s medical condition. Taricani received a heart transplant in 1996 and must adhere to a strict medication regimen to control his immune system. Taricani’s attorney, Martin Murphy, had asked for a sentence of not longer than 30 days.
Taricani’s source, Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr., who defended former Providence tax official Joseph A. Pannone, testified at today’s hearing that he never asked Taricani for confidentiality, The Providence Journal reported. Bevilaqua had previously testified under oath that he was not the source, and under oath today that he previously lied. Taricani maintains that Bevilaqua demanded confidentiality.
The leak investigation began after WJAR in February 2001 aired a portion of the videotape showing Providence city official Frank E. Corrente accepting a bribe from an undercover FBI informant. The tape was sealed evidence in an FBI investigation into corruption by Providence officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr., who along with Corrente and Pannone, was later convicted.
DeSisto subpoenaed Taricani, but he refused to reveal his source, and was held in civil contempt by Torres on March 16. After a failed appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.), Tariciani began paying a $1,000-a-day fine Aug. 12. The fines, paid by NBC, reached $85,000.
On Nov. 4, Torres stayed the fines because they failed to coerce Taricani to testify, and gave him two weeks to reveal his source or face criminal contempt charges. Taricani refused and was tried and convicted Nov. 18.
DeSisto deduced that Bevilacqua was the source the morning of Taricani’s criminal contempt trial, after Taricani told an FBI agent that his source had signed a confidentiality waiver, but that he would still not reveal the source’s identity because the waiver might not be voluntary. The only waiver Taricani had been shown was Bevilacqua’s.
DeSisto told Taricani he had deduced the source before the trial, but Taricani still refused to identify the source. DeSisto then questioned Bevilacqua, who admitted being the source.