A TV reporter was sentenced Thursday to six months of home confinement for refusing to say who leaked him an FBI videotape of a politician taking a bribe.
Jim Taricani, 55, could have gotten up to six months in federal prison. He was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for defying U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres’ order to identify his source. Taricani had argued that he had promised to protect his source’s identity.
Taricani, who has a transplanted heart, had asked for less than 30 days of home confinement because of his health problems. Prosecutors asked for six months of confinement at home.
Taricani is one of several journalists nationwide who have become locked in First Amendment battles with the government over confidential sources. That includes reporters for Time and The New York Times who have been threatened with jail as part of an investigation into the disclosure of an undercover CIA officer’s identity.
In the Providence case, the FBI tape of a former mayoral aide taking a $1,000 payoff was part of a corruption probe that ultimately sent city officials, including former Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, to federal prison.
Taricani broke no law by airing the tape, 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.
Federal shield law proposed
After a three-year investigation failed to turn up the source, Torres found Taricani in civil contempt and began fining him $1,000 a day to compel him to speak. Taricani refused, saying he had an obligation to his source, and ran up $85,000 in fines, paid for by his employer, NBC-affiliated WJAR, before the judge turned up the pressure by charging him with criminal contempt.
The reporter called his Nov. 18 criminal contempt verdict an “assault on journalistic freedom.”
The day after Taricani was found in criminal contempt by a federal judge, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., proposed a federal shield law for reporters.
Less than a week after Taricani was convicted, Providence lawyer Joseph Bevilacqua Jr. came forward and admitted he was the one who leaked the tape. Bevilacqua was the lawyer for a former city tax official who pleaded guilty in the corruption scandal.
Bevilacqua told prosecutors he never required Taricani to withhold his identity and that Taricani asked him not to come forward. He repeated that in testimony Thursday.
Taricani, however, said Bevilacqua repeatedly insisted that his identity be kept confidential in numerous conversations during the last three years — and as recently as the day Taricani stood trial for contempt.