A defense lawyer came forward and admitted he is the person who leaked an FBI videotape to a TV reporter now facing jail time for protecting the source, court papers filed Wednesday said.
Joseph Bevilacqua Jr. confirmed to a special prosecutor on Nov. 24 that he provided the undercover videotape to WJAR-TV reporter Jim Taricani. 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.
Taricani denied that at an afternoon news conference.
“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.
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.
Calls to Bevilacqua and DeSisto weren’t immediately returned.
Bevilacqua will likely face charges for handing over the tapes, and could lose his law license, said David Yas, an attorney and editor of Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly
“This puts Bevilacqua in a lot of hot water,” he said.
“If Bevilacqua had wanted to help (Taricani’s) cause, this was not the time to come forward. The horse is out of the barn,” Yas said, citing the guilty finding against the reporter.
Reporter asserts First Amendment rights
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 officer’s identity.
Taricani has insisted he has a First Amendment right to keep his source confidential.
In March, the judge found Taricani in civil contempt and imposed a $1,000-a-day fine until he identified his source. WJAR, owned by NBC Universal, reimbursed Taricani $85,000 for the payments until the judge suspended the fine a month ago, saying it had not achieved its goal.
On Nov. 18, the judge found Taricani in criminal contempt.
Taricani’s lawyers have asked that he be sentenced to less than 30 days of home confinement because of health concerns. He suffers kidney problems, has had a heart transplant and takes medication to keep his body from rejecting the heart, his lawyers said.