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Yocom Clears Salt Lake Police in Smart Leak Probe

Yocom Clears Salt Lake Police in Smart Leak Probe

Posted - May 6, 2003 at 12:09 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Salt Lake County District Attorney Dave Yocom on Tuesday said none of the information sold to the National Enquirer for a story about Elizabeth Smart's family came from the city police department.

Yocom's announcement followed allegations by the Smart's attorney that the city police and other law enforcement agencies were the sources former Salt Lake Tribune reporters Michael Vigh and Kevin Cantera said they used for the Enquirer story.

Attorney Randy Dryer said police and officials from the FBI, Utah Department of Public Safety, and U.S. Secret Service leaked information about the case.

Dryer provided Yocom with an audiotape of a 2-hour interview with the former reporters, who said nothing in the tabloid article about the Smart family came from the police department during off-the-record conversations.

The tabloid on July 2 published a story headlined "Utah Cops: Secret Diary Exposes Family Sex Ring." The tabloid has retracted the story, settled with the Smart family and apologized for the false information. U.S. Attorney Paul Warner Tuesday afternoon said he referred the information Dryer provided to the federal Justice and Homeland Security departments, whose inspector generals already have sent investigators to Salt Lake City.

The investigators will handle allegations that FBI and U.S. Secret Service agents leaked information to Vigh and Cantera, as the reporters have claimed.

Warner said he'd reached a preliminary conclusion that the agents hadn't committed any crimes. "But I am not ruling out criminal action," he said. "Keep in mind, we have allegations, not evidence."

Warner declined to say whether the federal agents would re-interview the reporters, but said the grand jury would be available as an investigative tool.

Yocom said the former reporters claimed only to have talked to Salt Lake City police and one of the district attorney's prosecutors "briefly" regarding Richard Ricci, then a possible suspect in Elizabeth's kidnapping. That information also was discussed publicly, Yocom said.

Defending the police, Yocom said Dryer's letter "unduly involved the police department and gave some people ammunition to criticize them."

Dryer was hired by the Smart family, who feared further leaks might reveal details of Elizabeth's nine month ordeal with her alleged abductors.

On Tuesday, Dryer claimed that at the time of the reporters' off-the-record interviews, Ricci hadn't been publicly identified.

"Maybe Mr. Yocom ... is trying to be vague," Dryer said. "Vigh and Cantera identified Salt Lake Police Department sources. I don't think anything Mr. Yocom says contradicts that."

Yocom said his research of Utah law turned up no statute that would make such law enforcement leaks a criminal matter. Further, he said, a review of the Utah Public Officers and Employees Ethics Act, the Government Records Access Management Act and the Utah Criminal Code "found no applicable provision."

On June 5, Elizabeth, then 14, was kidnapped at knifepoint from her bed in the early hours, setting off a global media frenzy. She was found March 12 walking down the street of a Salt Lake City suburb with homeless drifter Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.

Mitchell and Barzee are being held in Salt Lake County jail. Their trials are expected in the fall.

Yocom said none of the four law enforcement sources Vigh and Cantera named would be witnesses in the trial.

"But that is a concern," he said. "Any time a law enforcement officer is discredited, that diminishes his value in court."

Ricci, who worked for the Smart family as a handyman, died in August of a cerebral hemorrhage while in prison on a parole violation. Though police Chief Rick Dinse said Ricci was a "top potential suspect," the handyman was not charged in the case. His name was cleared after Elizabeth was found.

Last week, Vigh and Cantera, whom the Enquirer paid $10,000 each, were fired for lying to Tribune editor James E. Shelledy about their work for the Enquirer. Two days later, Shelledy resigned because of the scandal, which owner-publisher Dean Singleton said has done serious damage to the Tribune's credibility.

Also last week, Mayor Rocky Anderson released a memo ordering Dinse to discipline those who leaked information.

Yocom's announcement Tuesday was encouraging, Anderson said. "But we need to await the completion of the investigation before we can say anything definitively."

The mayor said his concerns "have been not only leaks to the media, but things heard around the community. It appears some people have heard things from a limited number of police officers under conditions during which nothing should have been said."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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