Politics

Coffey's lawyer threatens stations if they rebroadcast old, embarrassing recording

An attorney for Anchorage mayoral candidate Dan Coffey sent a threatening letter to local radio and TV stations this week seeking to prevent a repeat disclosure of an embarrassing recording that was widely distributed seven years ago.

The letter demands that news organizations not broadcast a private, profanity-laced conversation between Coffey and Assembly member Bill Starr that was accidentally recorded from the back of a cab in 2008. The three-minute recording, captured on another Assembly member's answering machine accidentally dialed by Coffey's phone, sparked a campaign finance investigation after it was broadcast that year on a radio station.

Months ago, Coffey posted a transcript of the conversation on his campaign website. He wrote in a message posted with the transcript that he expects the public to hear excerpts from the conversation during his campaign for mayor.

Now, his campaign is threatening to take legal action against any media that broadcasts the 2008 conversation, saying it would be a violation of state and federal law because neither he nor Starr gave permission for the recording. At the time, the wife of Assembly member Allan Tesche said the recording belonged to her because it was left on the family answering machine. Neither Coffey nor Starr brought a legal case then to challenge Pam Tesche's assertion.

Coffey was an assemblyman then. Now he's running for mayor.

In a letter dated March 16, attorney Thomas Amodio wrote to media organizations: "I understand you may have a recorded or written version" of the conversation between Coffey and Starr.

Neither man consented to the recording, Amodio wrote. He goes on to claim that it would violate wiretap statutes to "broadcast, publish or otherwise divulge … an unlawfully intercepted private communication."

"With the election merely weeks away, we strongly urge you not to violate state and/or federal law by broadcasting the conversation or any portion of it," Amodio wrote. "Please be further advised that we will take all legal steps … necessary, and pursue all available remedies against you -- both civil and criminal -- if you disregard this request."

In an interview, Amodio said Coffey's campaign asked him to write the letter as a reminder to broadcasters that the recording was obtained illegally. He said the letter was sent to multiple broadcast stations, including KTUU-TV, KTVA-TV and 101.3 KGOT.

"It came out once, but it's not out there now in the way of broadcasting it," Amodio said. "It's fair to warn them this is illegal and you will be breaking the law."

It wasn't clear if Amodio's letter was prompted by concerns in Coffey's campaign that the recording would resurface before the election. Amodio referred further questions to Coffey. Coffey did not return a call seeking comment.

In the recording, which was broadcast in 2008 on KUDO 1080, now defunct, and published online by the Anchorage Daily News, Coffey uses profanity and makes remarks about "doling" out campaign contributions to Assembly candidates. He also talks about giving campaign contributions to fellow Assembly members "if they voted the right way."

In a message on his website introducing the transcript, Coffey calls that comment a "feeble attempt at humor."

"Sometimes, my flippant remarks come back to haunt me," Coffey wrote.

The recording prompted an investigation by the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Coffey was cleared of wrongdoing, but Assembly member Dick Traini was fined more than $11,500 for campaign violations uncovered in the course of the investigation. Starr was fined $315 for not reporting donations and expenses.

Mike Robbins, president and general manager of Alaska Integrated Media, which manages KOAN-FM 95.1, said he received a copy of the letter late Thursday night.

KOAN is a successor to KUDO, and Coffey called Robbins about a month ago to ask if the station had a copy of the tape. Robbins said Friday the station didn't have a copy that it was planning to air. But he also said the station wasn't intimidated by Amodio's letter, and it won't factor into decisions on whether to air the recording in the future.

"If we believe it's in the public interest to play the tape and not a violation of any law, then we will play it," Robbins said.

John McKay, an Anchorage attorney who represents media organizations including KTUU-TV and Alaska Dispatch News, said Friday that by putting the transcript of the conversation on his website, Coffey had effectively consented to the release of the recording.

"Coffey is publishing this thing," McKay said, referring to the online transcript. "He can't have it both ways."

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