Saturday, April 10, 1999

Chiquita informant targeted?

Lawyer claims other suspects being ignored

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Salt Lake City lawyer complained to a judge Friday that prosecutors unfairly targeted him while ignoring other suspects in the investigation of voice-mail theft at Chiquita Brands International Inc.

        George Ventura, a former legal counsel for the company, filed a motion in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court that claims he is the victim of selective prosecution.

        The motion asks the judge to dismiss all charges against Mr. Ventura because the methods used by prosecutors violated his constitutional rights.

        Mr. Ventura faces 10 felony charges and is accused of giving two former Cincinnati Enquirer reporters the secret codes needed to access Chiquita's voice-mail system.

        One of those reporters, Michael Gallagher, was fired by the newspaper and has pleaded guilty to two charges accusing him of illegally accessing the system.

        The other reporter, Cameron McWhirter, was not charged with a crime and has testified that he never accessed the system himself.

        Messages from the voice- mail system were included last year in articles the Enquirer published about Chiquita's business practices. The newspaper later renounced the articles in a front-page apology and agreed to pay Chiquita in excess of $10 million.

        At a court hearing last week, Mr. Gallagher identified Mr. Ventura as one of his confidential sources.


        In the motion filed Friday, Mr. Ventura's attorneys argue that several others, including Mr. McWhirter and other Enquirer employees, could have been charged with crimes.

        “Simply stated, there are several individuals who appear to have been immediately involved in Gallagher's interception and access of Chiquita's voice mail,” the motion states. “But these persons have not been charged with a criminal offense.”

        Specifically, the motion cites testimony in which Mr. Gallagher claimed the newspaper's editors and lawyers had authorized him to destroy tapes and documents relating to the Chiquita articles.

        If that occurred, the motion states, those individuals could have been charged with a crime.

        Mr. McWhirter, however, has testified that he recalls no one giving such an order.

        Mr. Ventura also argues that Mr. McWhirter and Mr. Gallagher were spared serious charges because they signed cooperation agreements with prosecutors.

        Mr. Gallagher's agreement requires him to name all sources, while Mr. McWhirter's does not.

        “Gallagher himself has not been prosecuted to the extent or in the heavy-handed manner that the special prosecutor chose to charge Mr. Ventura,” the motion states.

        Mr. Ventura's trial is set to begin in July.


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