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Reporters subpoenaed in suit over leak of ‘corrupted’ drug report

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb 5, 2002    

Reporters subpoenaed in suit over leak of ‘corrupted’ drug report

  • A Texas bank sued a college professor, accusing him of infiltrating a federal drug investigation and providing reporters with an unofficial government document that allegedly contained incorrect information linking the bank and its officers to illegal drug activity.

Two newspaper reporters have been subpoenaed by a Texas bank that is accusing an Ohio man of planting lies in an unofficial government document that links the bank and its Mexican owners to drug trafficking and then distributing the tainted report to the press.

The lawsuit, which already involved two states and a Mexican family, stretched to Virginia and Washington, D.C., in the last few weeks when subpoenas were served on Dolia Estevez, a reporter for El Financiero, a Mexican newspaper; and Jamie Dettmer, senior editor of Insight, the weekly magazine of The Washington Times.

Laredo National Bank also has tried to serve a subpoena on Washington Post reporter Douglas Farah, who has been out of the country, an attorney for the Post said.

The subpoenas seek all documents the reporters used in preparing their stories about the federal drug investigation, as well as notes from conversations the reporters had with key players in the civil lawsuit.

Laredo National Bank also wants to know whether the reporters provided documents to each other while they were preparing their stories.

The bank is “trying to conjure up some idea that we are in some kind of conspiracy together,” Dettmer said. “They completely misunderstand how the press works in the United States. We are competitors and rivals.”

Laredo National Bank’s lawsuit, filed in August 2000 in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, accuses Donald Schulz, chairman of the political science department at Cleveland State University, and unnamed defendants of infiltrating a federal investigation called “Operation White Tiger” and causing “disinformation and flat-out lies” to become part of a draft government report in March 1999.

The lawsuit says the report incorrectly linked the bank, bank president Gary G. Jacobs and bank chairman and majority shareholder Carlos Hank Rhon to illegal drug activity and money laundering. U.S. government officials later said the report contained names that may not have been targets of the investigation, the lawsuit claims, and that news reports linking the bank, Jacobs and Rhon to crime were not true.

The bank accuses Schulz of fraudulently obtaining the flawed draft report and distributing it to reporters, including Estevez. The lawsuit accuses Schulz and the unnamed defendants of conspiracy, violation of federal and state racketeering laws, tortious interference with contract, defamation and invasion of privacy.

The bank has threatened to add Estevez as a defendant for “deliberately and tortiously traffick(ing) in an unauthorized, unvetted, draft executive summary of a government report overflowing with rumor, innuendo and outright falsehoods,” according to court documents.

Estevez, who lives in Reston, Va., and covers Washington, D.C., for the Mexican business paper, believes the bank is trying to intimidate reporters.

“I definitely think that one of the reasons or motivations they have is to intimidate reporters, not only Mexican reporters but American reporters, into not covering any news related to their activities in the United States,” Estevez said.

Her attorney, Richard Goehler, said Estevez obtained information lawfully and properly and published it, which is newsgathering activity protected by the First Amendment.

Estevez is refusing to comply with the subpoena. A U.S. District Court judge in Alexandria, Va., will hear arguments on Feb. 22 on Estevez’s motion to quash the subpoena.

Dettmer, who has been subpoenaed in Washington, D.C., said he will provide nothing more than his published articles.

(Laredo National Bancshares, Inc. v. Schulz; Media counsel for Dolia Estevez: Richard M. Goehler, Frost Brown Todd LLC, Cincinnati, Ohio; Media counsel for Jamie Dettmer: Allen V. Farber and James A. Barker, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, D.C.) MD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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