George Ventura rode an emotional roller coaster from October 1997, when he first contacted Enquirer reporters Michael Gallagher and Cameron McWhirter, to June 1999, when he pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to two years probation. In February's Brill's Content, he took the ride all over again.
The issue, out this week (and online at www.brillscontent.com), features a powerful first-person account of Ventura's decision to become an anonymous source for The Enquirer's investigative series on Chiquita Brands International, his former employer, and the tumult in his life after Gallagher fingered him to a Hamilton County special prosecutor.
It's the first extensive public comments Ventura has offered since his plea bargain with prosecutors, and it was tough for him to relive the ordeal in print.
"The article was very difficult for him to do," says Marc Mezibov, who represented Ventura during the criminal investigation and again for his current lawsuit against The Enquirer and Gannett. "Brill's Content contacted us to do it, but naturally George was a little wary of the media. He agreed, but only if he could write it himself."
The result is a unique look inside the mind of someone who, for a variety of reasons, risked his career, his family and his future to become an anonymous source for investigative journalists. It's unique because, well, most anonymous sources don't get outed.
The article is full of fascinating insights, but a few stand out.
There's Ventura's comparison of his dealings with Gallagher and McWhirter to a seduction or affair both in the beginning ("They would butter me up, throwing out comments like 'It sure sounds like you had a lot of responsibility' and play to my vanity. ... There is something akin to a friendship that they're nurturing, bringing you along, seducing you.") and in the end ("My wife was screaming, 'My God, what the hell is going on?' She knew that I had spoken once with the Enquirer reporters about Chiquita the previous October, but she made me promise that I would never talk to them again. ... It was almost as if my wife were discovering that I had had an affair or that there were another, dark and secret part of my life she had known nothing about.").
There's an eerie exchange with a lawyer friend of his, Vicki Farrar, who was helping Ventura arrange legal counsel in Cincinnati after he'd been arrested ("She sighed heavily and said, 'Oh, God, I wish you weren't going. I've heard some terrible things. I've talked to a lot of high-powered attorneys. Be very careful when you go to Cincinnati. Do not be alone at any time. Do not sit in front of windows.' I said, 'Vicki, you're being paranoid. You're scaring me.' She continued, 'The people I talked to scared me. You could get hurt. You could get killed. I'm dead serious.' ").
Brill's Content sent synopses of Ventura's remarks to four people directly or indirectly discussed in the article — Enquirer Publisher Harry Whipple, former Editor Lawrence Beaupre, Gallagher and McWhirter — and later to Chiquita officials. Only McWhirter returned any kind of extensive response; Whipple denied Ventura's claim that The Enquirer and Gannett had a hand in identifying him to prosecutors and otherwise offered a "no comment." No one else sent a response.
McWhirter, who now works for Gannett's Detroit News, said, "Mr. Ventura's claims, as characterized by Brill's Content in a faxed letter to me, are false and libelous as to me. His article in your magazine was written to serve one purpose: to further a frivolous lawsuit by an admitted criminal against a deep pocket, my employer."
Calling Ventura a criminal for, after all, helping the reporter himself is like a man having sex with his fiancee and then declining to marry her because she's not a virgin.
Ventura deserved better, then and now.