Thursday, December 02, 2004

Rhode Island Justice = Military Music

Lawyer Admits He's Source of Leaked Video

"PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A defense lawyer has acknowledged he leaked an FBI (news - web sites) videotape to a TV reporter facing jail time for protecting his source, but claims he never asked that his identity be kept secret.

Joseph Bevilacqua Jr. confirmed to a special prosecutor on Nov. 24 that he provided the undercover videotape to WJAR-TV reporter Jim Taricani, court papers filed Wednesday said. Bevilacqua is the lawyer for former city tax official Joseph Pannone, who was convicted in a Providence corruption scandal.

Taricani, 55, was to be sentenced next week for criminal contempt and faces up to six months in jail. It was unclear whether the confirmation of the source's identity would change Taricani's fate.

In a court filing, special prosecutor Marc Desisto said Bevilacqua came forward voluntarily — after learning he might be subpoenaed — and told the prosecutor he had previously offered to waive his confidentiality and allow Taricani to identify him, but the reporter asked him not to reveal himself.

"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," Taricani said at a news conference Wednesday.

Bevilacqua signed a waiver that would have allowed him to be revealed as the source, but Taricani said the lawyer "repeatedly insisted that I keep his name in confidence. ... He told me he had to sign the waiver, otherwise it would have raised suspicions that he was my source."

The tape, which showed a top aide to former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci Jr. taking a bribe, was aired in 2001 by the NBC affiliate before trials began in the case.

Cianci and the aide shown on tape, Frank Corrente, were convicted in 2002 and are serving time in federal prisons. Pannone also was convicted.

The reporter broke no law by airing the tape, but U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres appointed DeSisto to find out who leaked the tape because the court had ordered no one to release any tapes from the investigation. "


Taricani had refused to identify his source and became one of several journalists locked in battles with the government over confidential sources. Reporters for Time and The New York Times have been held in contempt in the investigation into the disclosure of an undercover CIA (news - web sites) officer's identity. "

(from AP/Yahoo; all the sordid details in The Providence Journal (registration required))

When Alan Dershowitz roasted the Rhode Island judiciary in Reversal of Fortune, he was being too generous. Ordinarily, this tale might have ominous implications for the free press across the country, but Rhode Island has been doing this sort of thing for years.

The leaked videotape, which shows one of Buddy Cianci's guys taking a bribe, has all the wallop of a video from Rick's Place showing people gambling. Its airing, which was the sort of journalistic coup that seems to define "local news" these days, confirmed the obvious, entertained Providence residents for a few minutes one evening, and then had absolutely no practical impact on anything. Nevertheless, Ernest Torres, who passes around here as a judge with a sound judicial temperament, wanted to know who leaked the tape. So much so, in fact, that he appointed DeSisto, Rhode Island's version of Inspector Javert, to start pissing away the state's limited resources to find the culprit. He also starts fining Taricani a grand a day for not revealing his source. After a few months of this nonsense, Taricani is dragged to court and convicted of contempt in a trial that took less than an hour.

Now we learn that Joseph Bevilacqua is the perp. Bevilacqua's story, and so far he's sticking to it, is that he didn't give a shit if Taricani gave him up--hey, he even signed the waiver. No matter that Bevilacqua lied under oath at one point denying involvement and never seemed interested in picking up the phone to call a journalist--any journalist--to let the public in on the secret. No, Bevilacqua's thinking here seems to be that Taricani's promise of confidentiality precluded him from giving it up on his own. It is also being reported that Taricani initially asked for the tapes, as if this somehow relieved Bevilacqua of any responsibility. No matter that he was the one with legal training and was one of the legal custodians of the tapes.

This story is failing the smell test with everyone except, of course, DeSisto. DeSisto, who seems to have lost sight of the fact that his goal was to find the leaker and not to make Taricani give up his source, is now using Bevilaqua's spin to paint Taricani as some nasty man with wholly nefarious motives. Naturally enough, he is also arguing that Torres should put the hammer down on Taricani at sentencing. Never mind that they've found their man, that Taricani's health isn't great, and that the whole case was a big fat fucking zero from the get-go. Justice must be done.


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