link to MCall article
Senate aide sought cell numbers of reporters in leaks case
A request came from lawyer for the Rev. Joseph Sica.
By Tim Darragh | and John L. Micek Of The Morning Call July 4, 2008
Some news reporters subpoenaed over alleged leaks from a grand jury investigation of Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples said Thursday that they were contacted by people who wanted to confirm their cell phone numbers or names.
At least some of those calls were made by an aide to state Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, the Senate minority leader. At least two others came from someone who pretended to work for a Pittsburgh newspaper.
A request for numbers came from Scranton lawyer Sal Cognetti, Senate Democratic spokesman Charles Tocci said. Cognetti is an attorney for the Rev. Joseph Sica, a DeNaples associate.
Sica and DeNaples were charged with perjury earlier this year after a grand jury investigation. Authorities claim DeNaples lied to help his bid for a slots license by telling gaming investigators he had no ties to organized crime. Sica is accused of lying to the grand jury about his relationship with a mobster. Their lawyers have said they are not guilty.
Fifteen reporters from six news organizations, including The Morning Call, last month received subpoenas at the request of DeNaples' and Sica's lawyers. The lawyers allege leaks related to the grand jury, which meets in secret.
Dauphin County Judge Todd A. Hoover heard arguments and testimony this week on whether a special prosecutor is needed to investigate the alleged leaks. He has until Aug. 2 to decide.
Tocci, reached Thursday, confirmed that a Mellow aide made some calls to ''eight or nine'' journalists. He said the inquiry was related only to updating a media contact list.
''As a courtesy,'' Tocci said, a Democratic Party official directed Cognetti's request for the numbers to the Senate Democrats' press office, where staffers checked a caucus media list. A female aide misunderstood her mandate, Tocci said, and began calling some of the reporters. The staffer ''called a couple'' of the numbers, he said, and then abandoned her task.
As a matter of policy, Tocci said, Senate Democrats share numbers from their media list with lawmakers or their staffs. Asked why the numbers were shared with Cognetti, Tocci said it's also common practice to share contact information with constituents or activist groups.
Cognetti has been a contract employee of Senate Democrats since March 2005, Tocci said, and was paid $48,259 last year for ''general matters outside the skill and expertise of our general counsel.'' Tocci said Cognetti does not do gaming-related work.
Cognetti did not return calls Thursday for comment.
Some reporters got calls from an unknown male.
Matt Birkbeck of The Morning Call received a call from someone claiming to be ''Randy Carruthers'' from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When Birkbeck questioned the caller, he hung up. Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow confirmed an Inquirer story that said a Daily News reporter received a similar call.
No such ''Carruthers'' works at the Post-Gazette, said Editor David Shribman.
''In most cases, it would be nice to think that someone was looking for you,'' Shribman said. ''But in this case, we don't find it amusing or acceptable.''
Scott K. Baker, general counsel for Philadelphia Media Holdings, publisher of the Inquirer and the Daily News, said the attempts to obtain reporters' cell phone numbers is ''further evidence'' of intent to harass the media, The Associated Press reported.
Pennsylvania's Shield Law protects reporters' confidential information and their sources. Trying to sidestep that, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, is ''bad for reporters and bad for the public.''
Barry Kauffman, executive director of the government watchdog organization Common Cause in Pennsylvania, said state employees ''have better things to do.''
A Mellow staffer asked for the cell phone numbers of at least three Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, editor Marimow confirmed. Philadelphia Daily News City Editor Gar Joseph said several Daily News staffers also were contacted.
Marimow and others criticized the involvement of Mellow aides, regardless of the reason. ''It just struck me as an inappropriate use of public employees,'' Marimow said.
Daily News columnist John Baer said he received calls about his number, but the caller hung up. Hang-ups, he said, are not uncommon. Asked how often he received anonymous calls to his office seeking his cell phone number, Baer said, ''Well, never.''
In addition, Dave Janoski of the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice, who also was subpoenaed, said he too received a request for his cell phone number. He said he didn't know who asked, but returned the call to the state Democrats' communications office. He said he offered his cell number, saying that Cognetti and some of DeNaples' representatives already had it anyway.
A second subpoenaed Morning Call reporter, Christina Gostomski, said she had not been contacted. Associated Press reporter Marc Levy, also subpoenaed, did not recall inquiries about his cell phone number, said AP Pennsylvania Chief Sally Hale.