By: David Noack
Enquirer source to stand trial
The man charged with giving a former reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer unauthorized access to voice-mail messages of Chiquita Brands International officials has been ordered to stand trial.
Judge Ann Marie Tracey on May 25 refused a request by George Ventura, a former lawyer for the world’s largest banana company, to dismiss five of the 10 felony charges against him.
Ventura, now an attorney in Salt Lake City, is accused of providing the secret codes that allowed voice-mail access to Mike Gallagher, the paper’s former chief investigative reporter on alleged unlawful and unethical business practices of Cincinnati-based Chiquita.
Marc Mezibov and John Feldmeier, Ventura’s lawyers, argued that the charges did not match the crimes he is alleged to have committed. They cited five charges that accuse Ventura of intercepting or procuring another to intercept a wire communication.
At a hearing last month in Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court, where Gallagher named Ventura as the source who allowed him access to the voice-mail messages, Ventura’s lawyers said it is impossible to intercept a wire communication if that communication already has been electronically stored in a voice-mail system.
The judge decided that the law’s definition of “interception” also applies to illegally accessing a voice-mail system.
Ventura has pleaded innocent to the five counts of unlawful intercepting communications and to five counts of unauthorized access to computer systems. He is scheduled for trial July 6. He faces a sentence of 121/2 years in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors say Ventura provided the access codes to Gallagher, who then quoted the messages in articles he wrote for the Enquirer about Chiquita last year.
The newspaper later renounced the series, fired Gallagher, and paid Chiquita more than $10 million in a secret settlement. The reporter, who last year pleaded guilty to illegally intercepting communications and obtaining unauthorized access to Chiquita’s computer systems, faces a sentence ranging from probation to 21/2 years in prison.
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