Scandal Widens: Dallas Press Club to Review Three Years of Awards

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The Press Club of Dallas may have to review the last three years’ worth of Katie Awards, one of the Southwest’s most prestigious journalism prizes, because of the possibility they were rigged, the club’s president said Monday.

The entries for the 2006 Katies apparently never went before judges, and competitions from 2004 and 2005 are being probed, club President Tom Stewart said.

Stewart said he believes the competitions might have been rigged by the club’s former leader, who has won 10 Katies in the past four years and has a criminal record.

Former press club President Elizabeth Albanese was fired Saturday – after the scandal became public – from her job as vice president of communications for First Southwest Co., an investment banking firm in Dallas, the company’s general counsel said Monday.

The Dallas Morning News recently reported that Albanese has been arrested in Texas, Virginia and Maryland on charges including passing bad checks, fraud, theft and forgery. She has been convicted at least once, according to court records.

Those records indicate that Albanese’s name is Lisa J. Albanese and that she is 41. In an interview last week, she had said her name was Elizabeth M. Albanese, and that she is 37.

The Associated Press is considering returning its Katie Awards if they prove to be tainted, said Dale Leach, the Texas bureau chief.

“If any of the contest awards are deemed to be fraudulent due to lack of judging, The AP would return any of the awards they received,” Leach said. “I think we would be very reluctant to participate in the future without far greater assurances that the contest is legitimate.”

Rex Seline, managing editor/news for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram , said the newspaper staffers were proud of the work they submitted for consideration. ?The journalism still stands. But obviously, the awards are tainted, and we will return them,? Seline said in a story in his own newspaper.

The club is considering canceling the 2007 Katie Awards, which have been distributed for 48 years to reward the top work by journalists and communications professionals in Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Stewart also said the club is considering refunding entry fees to organizations that submitted work.

Albanese has not been able to produce names of any judges for the 2006 awards, Stewart said. Stewart has not been able to find names of judges for the 2005 competition, either.

Club officials also are investigating the 2004 Katie Awards because Albanese was co-chairwoman of that banquet, Stewart said.

Albanese did not return phone messages or e-mails left by The Associated Press on Monday. But in an interview last week, she said the 2006 Katies were properly judged. She could not produce names, Albanese said, because of confidentiality agreements with the judges.

Stewart said he was unaware of any such agreements.

Albanese accepted four Katies in November for stories she wrote for The Bond Buyer, a New York-based financial publication aimed at people in the municipal bond industry. Two of the stories prominently featured the investment banking company from which she was fired Saturday.

Nicholas Chesla, editor in chief of The Bond Buyer, said he was unaware of any complaints about Albanese’s work.

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