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Taricani ordered confined to home on criminal contempt charge

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Taricani ordered confined to home on criminal contempt charge

  • A federal judge sentenced investigative television reporter Jim Taricani to six months home confinement for refusing to reveal a confidential source.

Dec. 9, 2004 — A federal judge, calling it a “myth” that journalists’ sources would dry up if they could not be promised confidentiality, today confined Providence, R.I., investigative reporter Jim Taricani to his home for six months. U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres found Taricani in criminal contempt Nov. 18 for refusing to reveal the source of a leaked FBI videotape showing a Providence official taking a bribe from a government informant.

“It is a sad day for journalism,” Taricani’s employer, NBC Universal, which owns WJAR television, said in a statement. “The facts here do not justify punishing a journalist who did nothing illegal in receiving and airing a videotape.”

Taricani, who is allowed to leave home only to visit doctors, will be allowed visitors only from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., reported WJAR. As a condition of the confinement, Taricani is denied access to the Internet. Taricani will also not be able to give interviews and was sent directly home under order not to make a statement. He 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 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 in a city corruption scandal, 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, but under oath today said that he lied.

Taricani maintains that Bevilaqua did demand confidentiality. “I would never have jeopardized my health and reputation, and put my family and my company through this ordeal, if my source had not required a promise of confidentiality,” he said in a statement last week.

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 Torres held him in civil contempt in March. 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.

At today’s hearing, Taricani testified that he began dropping hints to prosecutors that would lead to Bevilaqua’s identity after he learned that Bevilaqua had bragged at a dinner party about being the source, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors never picked up on Taricani’s hints to question people who attended the dinner party.

DeSisto argued that Taricani should be required to pay the costs of the leak investigation, which had totaled more than $100,000 by August, but Torres did not order repayment as part of the sentence.

(In re special proceedings; Media Counsel: Jonathan Albano, Boston) GP

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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