A television reporter was convicted of criminal contempt Thursday for refusing to say who gave him an FBI videotape showing a city official taking a bribe.
Jim Taricani of WJAR-TV is to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres on Dec. 9. The undercover tape was aired prominently and repeatedly by the station.
Taricani faces up to six months in prison.
The tape was part of a federal probe into corruption at Providence City Hall during former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr.’s administration.
Airing of tape broke now law
Taricani, 55, broke no law by airing the tape, which shows Frank Corrente, a top aide for Cianci, taking an envelope stuffed with cash from an undercover FBI informant.
But attorneys, investigators and defendants were under court order not to disseminate any tapes connected to the probe, and a special prosecutor had been appointed to find out who leaked the tape.
Torres has said the leak was meant to either disrupt the corruption investigation at City Hall or deprive defendants of a fair trial by influencing prospective jurors.
The tape aired in 2001, two months before Cianci, Corrente and others were indicted in the investigation code-named “Operation Plunder Dome.” Both Cianci and Corrente were convicted and are serving time in federal prison.
After his 45-minute trial Thursday, Taricani called the conviction an “assault on journalistic freedom” and said he never expected to have to spend time behind bars for doing his job.
‘I made a promise’
“I made a promise to my source, which I intend to keep,” he said.
In March, Torres found Taricani in civil contempt for refusing to disclose his source and imposed a $1,000-a-day fine until he did. WJAR, which is owned by NBC Universal Television Group, paid $85,000 for its reporter until the judge suspended the fine two weeks ago, saying it had not achieved its goal.
Torres had said before Thursday’s trial that he wouldn’t sentence Taricani to more than six months in prison because of the reporter’s health. Taricani underwent heart transplant surgery in 1996.
Around the nation, several reporters face possible fines or jail, including in cases of the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame and a lawsuit against the government by nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee. Taricani would be the first of this crop of reporters to go to jail on a charge of criminal contempt.