By: Jim Moscou
Lewis Faces Bribery, Extortion Charges
For nearly three years, Craig Lewis tracked only the most sensational scoops swirling around the mysterious death of JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colo. Last week, the hunter became the target when the supermarket tabloid editor was arrested on commercial bribery and criminal extortion charges stemming from his reporting on the 6-year-old’s murder in 1996.
Lewis, 44, a news editor for the tabloid Globe, was also charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit the felonies. He was taken into custody by Colorado authorities Dec. 20, three days after a Jefferson County, Colo., grand jury indicted the editor after a five-month investigation. Officials said Lewis was cooperative and released by nightfall after posting a $5,000 bond.
At the same time, the tabloid editor seemed somewhat glib about his indictment on the four felony charges and the nearly nine years in prison he faces if convicted on all counts. He told the Denver Rocky Mountain News that the experience of being booked was ” ? basically like going to the driver’s license bureau.” He added that he did not commit the crimes and called his prosecution “a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
While the JonBenet connection and the tabloid twist thrust this case into the national spotlight, Lewis’ legal woes are also setting precedents in journalism. Rarely do criminal prosecutors venture into the world of news gathering. But, since the grand jury’s investigation of Lewis came to light in September, local prosecutors have argued the tactics used by Lewis to gather news went too far; that the First Amendment doesn’t protect news gathering as it does content; and that it is, in part, up to the state to rein in rogue reporters in a profession that does not regulate itself.
According to Colorado authorities, the extortion charges stemmed from an incident in mid-1998 when Lewis allegedly schemed to pressure a former police detective to release details of the JonBenet murder investigation. Lewis had obtained family photographs of former Boulder Detective Steve Thomas, including pictures of Thomas’ deceased mother. On Aug. 27, 1998, Thomas unexpectedly received a Federal Express package from Lewis containing color copies of those pictures with a note from the editor requesting a meeting to discuss the case.
The indictment alleges Lewis wanted
to inform Thomas that the tabloid would run a story saying the death of Thomas’ mother was a suicide unless he gave an interview or provided details about JonBenet’s murder. The suicide allegation was not true.
The plan was captured on taped telephone conversations by one of the Globe’s reporters, Jeff Shapiro, who later turned the evidence over to authorities and went public with allegations of wrongdoing by the tabloid. Along with a profile on Shapiro, those recordings were featured in an E&P cover story (July 24, p. 18) and can be heard at http://www.mediainfo .com/ephome/news/shapiro.htm.
The indictment notes several snippets from the Shapiro tapes, including Lewis telling Shapiro, “it won’t be amusing to [Thomas to] imagine the tabloids with pictures of his mother.” The photographs were also discussed by Shapiro and Globe News Editor Joe Mullins, as when Mullins told Shapiro, “Well, I’m sure [Thomas] wouldn’t want it published, would he?”
The commercial bribery charges stem from several attempts by Lewis in April 1997 to purchase for $30,000 the Ramsey ransom note from a handwriting expert hired by the Ramsey family. The investigator reported the incident to authorities, triggering the investigation of Lewis.
Colorado investigators also discovered the $30,000 used by Lewis in that bid was allegedly funnelled to the editor through an unnamed Denver law firm on the approval of Michael Kahane, vice president and general counsel for Globe Communications Corp.
Colorado authorities said their investigation is expected to continue. The Globe and its parent company, American Media Inc., issued a press release calling the indictment “without merit” and vowing to “pursue the truth about the brutal murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.”
(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
(copyright: Editor & Publisher December 25, 1999) [Caption]