Journalist sentenced to six months of house arrest

New York, December 9, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounced the sentence imposed today on local Rhode Island television reporter Jim Taricani, who was ordered to spend the next six months under house arrest for refusing to reveal who leaked him an FBI surveillance tape.

Taricani, an investigative reporter with the NBC-owned affiliate station, WJAR-TV, in Providence, Rhode Island, will begin serving his sentence immediately and will only be free to leave his house to visit the doctor or for a medical emergency. He has also been barred from accessing the Internet during his arrest and cannot make any public statements, according to WJAR. Under the law, Taricani could have been sentenced to a maximum of six months in prison.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists believes that journalists should never be imprisoned for their work. While Jim Taricani will not spend any time in prison, this sentence is a form of incarceration that will deny him his freedom just for doing his job,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.

The sentence came despite the fact that the source for the leaked tape has come forward after the court found Taricani in criminal contempt.

On November 18, 2004, a federal judge held Taricani in criminal contempt of court for refusing to reveal who leaked him an FBI surveillance tape that was evidence in a municipal corruption trial.

Taricani was served with a subpoena after WJAR broadcast a portion of the surveillance tape in 2001 showing a municipal official, Frank E. Corrente, accepting a bribe from an FBI undercover agent. The tape was sealed under court order at the time. Corrente, along with the former Providence Mayor, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr., were later convicted of corruption.

Taricani was held in civil contempt of court on March 16, 2003, by U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres, who imposed a daily $1,000 fine, which was stayed pending Taricani’s appeal. His lawyers took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals First Circuit in Boston, where he lost on April 12 and was ordered to start paying the pay the fine. Taricani’s fines totaled $85,000, and NBC reimbursed him.

Judge Torres stayed the fines on November 4, because they had not induced Taricani to reveal his source. The judge then gave the journalist another two weeks to either name his source or face criminal sanction. On November 18, Judge Torres held Taricani in criminal contempt of court, although the federal judge gave the journalist another three weeks before sentencing him, presumably to give the journalist more time to consider his options.

Taricani is the recipient of a heart transplant, and Judge Torres has said during deliberations that Taricani’s heart condition is the main reason he has been reluctant to order the journalist to jail.

Since then, Taricani’s source who leaked him the FBI surveillance tape, Joseph Bevilacqua, has testified in court that he was the source for the tape. Bevilacqua was the defense attorney for another municipal official, Joseph Pannone, who later pleaded guilty in the municipal corruption case. Bevilacqua, is expected to face criminal sanctions for violating court orders and leaking the tape to Taricani. Only after Bevilacqua came forward did Taricani admit that the lawyer was the source for the FBI surveillance tape.

The two men have publicly disagreed whether Bevilacqua asked Taricani not to reveal his identity as the source of the tape.