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Reporter in Chiquita Case: Probation

July 16, 1999

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who stole Chiquita executives’ voice mail for an investigative series on the banana company was sentenced Friday to five years of probation.

Michael Gallagher, 41, could have gotten 2 1/2 years behind bars.

``I’m here because I did something wrong. I’m here to take responsibility for what I did,″ he told Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus, who also ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service.

In 1998, the newspaper fired Gallagher, renounced his stories about business practices at Chiquita Brands International Inc., apologized to the fruit company on the front page and paid it more than $10 million.

Gallagher pleaded guilty in September to illegally gaining access to Chiquita’s voice mail system.

He also cooperated in the prosecution of former Chiquita lawyer George Ventura, who was identified in court as a source for the articles. Ventura has said he was promised anonymity as a source for the Enquirer but was betrayed.

Last month, Ventura pleaded no contest to supplying the secret codes Gallagher used to get into the voice-mailboxes. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 40 hours of community service.

Chiquita also sued Gallagher in federal court a year ago, accusing him of defaming the company and breaking into its voice mail. Chiquita said Friday it has settled the lawsuit. It refused to disclose the terms.

The Enquirer’s 18-page report on Chiquita, published in May 1998, accused the company unsavory business practices in Latin America. Chiquita said the reporting gave a slanted, unfair portrayal.

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