Government Drops Attempt to Incarcerate Witness for Telling His Story in a New Book

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In a decision that the Authors Guild, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), and Association of American Publishers (AAP) hailed as a victory for free expression, Assistant U.S. Attorney David C. Esseks dropped an attempt to jail a cooperating witness who shared his story in a recently published book. "We're very happy with [the decision], it's a great result," said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. "This time the law worked the way it ought to."

In 1999, Louis Pasciuto pled guilty to securities fraud and has since helped the government convict more than 20 dishonest "bucket shop " brokers, according to an Authors Guild press release. Pasciuto shared his story with investigative journalist Gary Weiss, which Weiss chronicled in Born to Steal, When the Mafia Hit Wall Street (Warner Books), published just last week.

When Esseks -- the assistant U.S. attorney working with Pasciuto -- learned of the book, he attempted to revoke his bail, arguing that publication of the book would put his witness in danger. ABFFE, AAP, and the Authors Guild protested the attorney's decision in a letter dated Thursday, May 15, to Judge Richard C. Casey. A day later, the matter was dropped after the Assistant U.S. Attorney reached an undisclosed agreement with Pascuito's attorney that would keep the witness out of jail, said Aiken.

In the letter, the groups cited Supreme Court precedence, Simon & Schuster v. Crime Victims BD. (1991), as forbidding imposing penalties for telling one's story for publication. The penalties in the S&S case were financial, but, in this particular case, the groups noted, the penalty would be far greater -- the loss of one's liberty. Furthermore, "revocation of Pasciuto's bail and the inevitable chilling effect caused by incarcerating a source to a story of vital public concern would violate the public's First Amendment right to read and hear information," the letter noted.

"This would have had a chilling effect on who would bring their story to the public," Aiken noted. "And here we're talking about matters of public policy…. The Assistant U.S. Attorney was overstepping his bounds. When the legal precedent was pointed out, [he] backed off." --David Grogan