Chiquita Lawyer, Enquirer Reporter Sentenced on Voice-Mail Theft Charges

News Media and the Law, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview
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Chiquita Lawyer, Enquirer Reporter Sentenced on Voice-Mail Theft Charges


A reporter who admitted that he gained access to a company's voice-mail system illegally while preparing a story was sentenced to probation and community service in mid-July as part of a plea agreement.

The company lawyer whom he named as his source pleaded no contest to providing the system codes to the reporter. He also was sentenced to probation and community service.

Former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Michael Gallagher was sentenced to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service in mid-July for illegally gaining access to the internal voicemail system at the Chiquita Brands International banana company while researching an investigative series on the company's business practices.

Gallagher had pleaded guilty to felony charges of unlawful interception of communications and unauthorized access to voice-mail systems in October 1998 in the Court of Common Pleas in Cincinnati. He faced a maximum sentence of two and onehalf years in prison and a fine of $7,500. Gallagher pleaded guilty to the two felony charges as part of a settlement with prosecutors in which he agreed to cooperate with their investigation of the voice-mail theft and ultimately disclose his confidential source -- former Chiquita lawyer George Ventura.

The series of articles Gallagher wrote for the Enquirer, published in May 1998, questioned aspects of Chiquita's Central American business dealings, accused company officials of bribery in Colombia, and alleged the company's pesticide practices endangered workers' health and that Chiquita ships were used to smuggle cocaine. The reports were based in part on the voice-mail messages Gallagher obtained, although one of the articles indicated that the messages had been provided by "a highranking Chiquita executive."

The newspaper reportedly paid Chiquita more than $10 million as part of a confidential legal settlement, under which Chiquita agreed not to sue the Enquirer. Gallagher was fired from his position after the Enquirer "renounced" the series in a page-one statement published in June 1998.

Though the Enquirer apologized for "the untrue conclusions in the Chiquita series of articles," it was unclear whether the newspaper believed that the series was inaccurate. "We are not aware of anything to suggest that this is an instance of a reporter fabricating something,"Enquirer publisher Harry Whipple told The New York Times at the time.

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Chiquita Lawyer, Enquirer Reporter Sentenced on Voice-Mail Theft Charges
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