Michael Riconosciuto

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An example of Martin's tendency to confuse unproven allegations with established matters of fact can be found in Martin's treatment of Michael Riconosciuto, a computer software technician who has submitted a sworn affidavit in the Inslaw software piracy case. Riconosciuto has claimed that he was threatened by a former staff member of the Justice Department with criminal prosecution on an unrelated charge and with an unfavorable result in a pending child custody dispute if he testified on the Inslaw case. Riconosciuto has also claimed that he made a tape recording of the telephoned threat, two copies of which were confiscated when he was arrested. Although he has not produced it, he claims a third copy exists, which is being held in a safe location. When Martin discusses Riconosciuto, he begins with what appears to be a statement of uncontested fact, "In February, Riconosciuto was called by a former Justice Department official and warned against cooperating with an investigation into the case by the House Judiciary Committee." In fact, while some of what Riconosciuto has alleged can be verified, much cannot. Despite the plethora of details Martin presents, the entire content of Martin's story on Riconosciuto is composed of Riconosciuto's own unverified assertions or other unproven allegations made in the early stages of a lawsuit.

Riconosciuto has also been championed as a source by the LaRouchians who say they introduced Riconosciuto to Danny Casolaro, according to the Village Voice article by Ridgeway and Vaughan. Anyone reading that article carefully will get the idea that authors Ridgeway and Vaughan think that some of the Riconosciuto/Casolaro allegations are unsubstantiated and reflect undocumented conspiracy theories.

Jerry Uhrhammer of the Tacoma Morning News Tribune covered Riconosciuto's claims and legal battles for that paper, including Riconosciuto's three-week-long drug trial, held in Tacoma in April 1991. "I believe it is significant that Casolaro's theory about a mega-conspiracy he called 'The Octopus' seems to have developed after exposure to Riconosciuto's tales of involvement in nearly every major national and international conspiracy of the past decade," wrote Uhrhammer in a letter to the IRE Journal of the Investigative Reporters & Editors group.

Uhrhammer says it was relatively easy for him to disprove many of Riconosciuto's claims. "There were other instances in which it was obvious that Riconosciuto had obtained small morsels of information, then embellished and expanded those morsels into seven-course feasts of conspiratorial derring-do that he fed back through the conspiracy network. The thought of going into print with a story based on such a story makes me shudder," wrote Uhrhammer.

Any reporter who checked the court file prior to Riconosciuto's trial could have found documents that offered a psychiatric explanation for [his] conspiracy tales. Psychiatrists who examined him in 1972, prior to his first drug conviction, portrayed him as a mentally unstable person who had trouble discerning between fact and fiction....I have been dismayed and appalled by some articles in which Riconosciuto is quoted as a primary source, if not sole source, in support of some conspiracy theory, but without any warning to the reader that his credibility is suspect or nonexistant.

Free-lance reporter Jonathan Littman spent four months investigating charges regarding the Canazon Indian reservation, including those circulated by Casolaro, who had been using Riconosciuto as a source. Littman wrote a fascinating three-part series for the San Francisco Chronicle on how outsiders were abusing tribal sovereignty. Littman and Chronicle reporter Michael Taylor also wrote a story about Riconosciuto's claims about several murders linked to persons associated with the Cabazon reservation. "We had to throw out tons of stuff from Riconosciuto wholesale...because we ended up trying to prove a negative," said Taylor.

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