UPDATE On June 21st 2016 the Conn. Supreme Court overturned the NOT Guilty decisions from the Appeals Court in my criminal case. As a result I will now spend 30 days in the State’s only female jail that is a maximum security prison. You can read one review of the absurd Supreme court legal logic written by a law school professor here. According to my attorney Steve Seegar the Supreme court used my case to create case law because CT legislature wouldn’t pass cyberbullying laws that made truthful but vexing or mean speech illegal. Instead they are using a breach of peace statute I am charged with to make non-violent non-threatening truthful but uncomfortable speech on a private Facebook page criminal. It’s a complete failure of the State’s justice system and I just happen to be the Ginny-Pig journalist they choose to railroad. I have refused for six years to give up the sources who wrote the Facebook page or gave me a copy of Meagan Brody’s letter that detailed how her and her friends were breaking the law hosting underage drinking parties where a friend’s parent helped support the party. While I’m not thrilled to have to lose my freedom for 30 days and put my body at risk of injury in jail I am proud of my journalism ethics and choice to fight this case. I thank all who have donated thousands of dollars for my defense! I will be back in August reporting here and at the trade publication I work for www.growthcapitalist.com
UPDATE: The Conn. State Appeals Court overturned my conviction relating to anything having to do with speech or Facebook on August 12th. We now have a clear legal decision that I am NOT guilty of the headlines I have faced the last four years of ‘Facebook Harassment’. I am still facing a Class C low-level misdemeanor charge of harassment for the action of mailing a package containing a letter Meagan Brody wrote detailing her behavior and attitude toward binge drinking and hook-up sex to my then boyfriend (Paul Brody) along with a letter from her friend expressing worry over Meagan’s behavior. The court feels because I did this without identifying myself as the sender right away that it showed circumstantial evidence of my intent to harass (annoy or alarm) my boyfriend and his daughter. I chose not to testify on this charge because I would have had to give up the name of the girl who gave me Meagan’s letter who was a protected source and I would have had to tell Paul about the story I was working on that could have involved people he knew. It’s an absurd interpretation of the law which we plan to ask the CT Supreme Court to overturn. My sentence is stayed and I still face up to 15 days of jail time if we don’t win in the Supreme court. You can read the appeal decision here.
My Conn. Supreme Court hearing was on January 19th. You can see the live hearing on Connecticut public television here. A reporter for the New Canaan Advertiser who was not at the hearing but watched the recording days latter wrote a story on some the issues of the case here along with quotes from me and my attorney.
In November 2010 I was arrested for interference with a police investigation, 2nd degree breach of peace, 2nd degree harassment while working on a story about wealthy wall street families that enabled underage drinking and drug parties where teens were getting hurt. I was following the actions of a group of concerned and frustrated parents who had identified around five ‘party houses’ where the local New Canaan cops alleged knew there were underage parties happening but did not use Connecticut laws to investigate and arrest parents for their role in supporting and enabling these parties.
My long time boyfriend’s 17 year old daughter Meagan Brody indirectly became a part of the investigation when one of her friends contacted me about a letter being passed around talking about a party at the Underwood’s house. Meagan testified in court she had written the letter while on vacation. I was told she then shared it with some of her friends. Avery Underwood and her parents were one of the five families I was investigating; her dad was a forex trader. Meagan’s party letter talked about her getting keys to her friend’s home to go and binge drink along with other information that I would have used to show how teens were getting hurt though alcohol poisoning or put in risky sexual situations at the Underwood’s home. I had been collecting other evidence, through local sources, that included photos and videos of these binge drinking and sex parties. I was working to build enough printable evidence to expose the conduct, along the New Canaan police role in covering it up or ignoring the problem. 2010 was a year we saw Wall Street getting away with massive bank fraud and a few editors I’d discussed the story with thought it showed in their personal lives they appear to get away with breaking the law also.
Some of Meagan’s letter that talked about other New Canaan teens (most of them were 18) at the party and was published on a private/protected facebook page. Meagan Brody was the only person in the State’s case that testified she actually saw the facebook page when another friend of hers had told her about the posting. She testified you had to be invited to see the page and she wasn’t invited so she had to view it through her friends facebook account. She changed her testimony a few times during cross examination to say at some point she was able to see the facebook page also from her own account. Meagan also testified that what was written was true. Meagan was 2 months away from her 18th birthday and graduated from New Canaan High School when she went to cops. She was 18 when I was arrested. Paul Brody, her dad, had told me through her senior year he’d been catching Meagan in white lies…it was a new reality for him. Paul and his wife Ellen Zaroff had divorced in 2007 and Paul’s role in parenting on his own was something new for him. He told me a year in the relationship he never talks to his girls about sex and boys and leaves that up to his wife Ellen.
The state presented no direct evidence during the one day trial of who posted Meagan’s letter, talking about a truthful event that was a matter of public interest – illegal teen drinking and parents role in supporting it. In the warrant report for my arrest, Officer Carol Ogrinc wrote that she had found two IP address connected to the facebook page and that Cablevision told her one of them was from the library and another was from my home office. What Officer Ogrinc didn’t put in her warrant report was that there was a third IP address that started the account that wasn’t the same as my home IP address. I learned this when the prosecution had to show my lawyer, Frank DiScala, all the evidence collected. Regardless of what Officer Ogrinc said she got from Facebook, these IP addresses where never allowed in at trial because the State did not bother to offer proof on how they were obtained or where they came from. In legal terms they were just hearsay.
Carol Ogrinc also stated in her signed arrest warrant she’d determined I’d started the facebook page but offered no proof at trial how she came to that conclusion. Officer Dan Gulino was the cop that told me ‘the police were going to come after me’ after I had to tell them I was also investigating their role in covering up parents role in teen drinking. Officer Gulino never asked me if I posted information on facebook even though Officer Orgnic wrote in her warrant report that I had. It was a sham arrest from the start that took them five months to put together. My lawyer always said they couldn’t figure out what to charge you with. This case is about speech, non-threatening and truthful, and a journalist protecting sources caught in a difficult spot.
I hadn’t reported on a lot of metro cases at this time in my career. I usually covered corporate fraud and crime that dealt with the DOJ and the SEC. It was eye opening to see how local cops leave information out of warrant reports or just make stuff up to get an arrest. From watching how the Norwalk, Conn. court house works for the last 3 years I see why so many cases just got Accelerated Rehabilitation, the state can’t prove their case. AR, as it’s called, has to be approved by a judge but it lets the accused not deny or admit guilty and then after a probation period if they don’t get arrested again the charges are wiped out from their record like it never happen. The local cops over charge, Judges like Judge Huddock were signing any arrest warrant put in front of him, and often people don’t have the time or money to fight the charges so they take these AR deals. It’s a system that allows the cops to look like they are making arrest in the annual reports, employs defense lawyers, and offers a nice paycheck to bail bondsmen. I was told at the time of my trial the Norwalk prosecutors had taken 12 cases to trial and won only two of them. Even the prosecutors don’t care if they win or lose it’s just a state paycheck without a lot of hard work
I chose a bench trial a few months before the trial because we couldn’t get the State to set a trial date after two years. They just kept offering AR all of the 30+ times I had to go to court and even right before we started the trial. We also thought we’d get a judge that would rule on the law and the evidence presented. I didn’t get that. Instead I walked into a court with two prosecutors, Mr Wenzel (the judge) and an assistant State’s attorney Donna Krusinski. After the State rested their case my attorney, Frank DiScala, said that there was no need for me to testify because he’s done such a solid job of poking holes in the State’s case. I wanted to testify but knew I’d likely be held in contempt and sent to jail for a night or two for not revealing sources on the stand. The head marshal in the room told us he didn’t know why we were here he thought they had no case.
I had already told my boyfriend Paul J. Brody, CFO of Interactive Brokers Group, that I didn’t post anything on facebook but I had sent a copy of Meagan’s letter to him, along with a letter from her friend sharing her worried thoughts about Meagan’s binge drinking without identifying who sent it on the package. At time of trial Meagan was 20 years old and a student at Boston University.
I was stuck in a tough spot and wanted to alert Paul to these problems that he was unaware of but I wasn’t ready for him to know I was working on this story and Meagan’s letter might be used as evidence to the Underwood parties in a news report. I also had another teen to protect who I believed would have been bullied by Meagan and her friends and maybe her family maybe sued for giving me the letter and sharing what role they’d seen parents play in these teen parties.
My boyfriend Paul was a wonderful, ethical, caring man and boyfriend. He’d supported my career as a journalist and me financially if I was between freelance contracts or newspaper staff jobs. At the time of this incident I had just started selling stories to New York Magazine, which was one of the publications I would have tried to sell this story too to IF I had enough hard evidence. I also had an open publishing agreement with IEHI Media where I would have printed if the story if New York Magazine didn’t buy it. After I told Paul I had sent him Meagan’s letter he got very aggressive with me about telling him who gave me Meagan’s letter and who posted it on facebook. He said ‘Why do you have to choose journalism over loyalty to me.” I was in shock. In the same breath also thanked me for making sure he got Meagan’s letter.
I don’t have children and don’t have first hand experience with a bond between father and daughter. When Paul first told me Meagan had gone to the cops complaining about what was written on a private facebook page at a Friday night dinner he said, “I was surprised Meagan wasn’t embarrassed about giving a guy she hardly knew a blow job or having to tell the cops, this is who she is and she is confident with herself. But she does want to get revenge and I’m going to help her.”
This was another reaction I would have never expected from Paul. I really thought he’d stand by me when I had to tell him Meagan had her friends were breaking the law and Meagan was even bragging about it in a letter she shared with her friends. Paul never stuck me as a vengeful person. Meagan even admitted in court she kept her real diary on her computer something she never told the cops. When my attorney asked about the computer diary she responded ‘Yes but how would you know that?”. Paul still paid my bills that next month but our 2.5 year relationship was over. I was heartbroken and had clearly miss-judged how to handle the situation to preserve the story and my relationship. What I don’t regret is protecting my sources. I have always said I’d go to jail for a source and now I might.
Judge Wenzel, who was only a few months on the bench of the State criminal courts at the time of my trial, and also was a defense lawyer protecting the banks that I’d written about committing fraud, found me not guilty of the most serious misdemeanor. A class A interference with a police investigation, which could have been one year in jail. It was something I should have never been charged with. He then surprised my lawyer and found me guilty, on circumstantial evidence, of a class C misdemeanor Harassment, and a class B misdemeanor Breach of Peace. During closing arguments he got to question my attorney and I witnessed this judge reverse engineer evidence to try and build his case. He said in court “Well if we know Teri had the letter then who else would have posted it?” My attorney responded, “Your honor that’s not my job to prove that.” I wanted to scream at the judge “Are you serious? Anyone could have the letter, I could have given it to someone else, Meagan could have given it to anyone, her fried who gave it to me could have given it to anyone.” And that was the basis for Judge’s beyond-reasonable-doubt-evidence for a breach of peace verdict!
I was told by one of my lawyers this reads like he convicted you because he didn’t like what he ‘thought you did’ not because there was evidence that you did anything that actually constituted breaking the law. There were multiple defense lawyers in the court room watching this case. Two said it was a mockery of the justice system.
I wasn’t totally surprised about the breach of peace verdict after I’d reported on other cases where the prosecution was maliciously going after people for their own agendas. But I was surprised on the harassment verdict with NO evidence brought forward that I had intent to harass. Why would I want to harass the man who was paying my bills and supporting the most important thing in the world to me – my byline. Luckily my readers and sources jumped in to pay for an expensive, but very good, appeal lawyer, Stephan Seeger, and they also funded my appeal bond of $25,000. We’ve filed the appeal two weeks ago and the judge actually agreed to stay the 30 day jail time sentence right after he issued the sentence on April 4th. That means the sentence is not in effect while we appeal. The local Hearst papers wrote a hit piece that made it seem like I had gone to jail but I didn’t. I had reported last year on the local New Canaan Hearst editor, Ashley Varese, overseeing a journalist who had plagiarized the most stories ever by a jurno gone rogue. I’m not on probation and we’ve got multiple courts to go through for appeal but hopefully the first appeals court will see how bad Judge Wenzel screwed up this case.
The funny thing was Wenzel didn’t give me the max $1500 fine or order any kind of probation counseling which typically is given in harassment charges. He does apparently enjoy handcuffing me though and make me pay high bonds; about $40,000 now in total. As far was Donna the prosecutor goes she told my attorney, DiScala, she just wants this case to be over and thinks we will win the appeal. If we do, she’ll still have the chance to bring up the charges again and start a new trial that will mean more taxpayers money wasted.
We also believe based on a post verdict hearing transcript where one of my attorneys, Stephan Seeger, argued with Judge Wenzel for an hour, that the harassment verdict only applies to me sending Paul Meagan’s letter anonymously – not to what was posted on facebook. What was posted on facebook is a breach of peace verdict. If Wenzel was to come out and directly say he gave me harassment for the facebook posting my lawyer said he’d then be admitting he allowed hearsay into the verdict ,which he can’t do. By the way it’s not illegal to send anything anonymously. To prove harassment the State had to prove I had intent and how Meagan or Paul felt doesn’t come into play when judges rule on this type of claim. Paul had testified our relationship was good. Meagan had testified she never went to Paul complaining about problems in our relationship. On the stand she gave a scripted reason for why she felt tension in our relationship – ‘Because Teri doesn’t always say Hi if I stopped by my Dad’s house and I didn’t feel comfortable with how Teri expressed herself sexually with Paul in front of her”. Meagan would only have ever seen Paul and I kiss and I always said hi to her; I enjoyed talking with her. We even showed the judge a card Meagan had made for me on my birthday that year talking about what a great person she thought I was. There was no intent harass, I loved my boyfriend and never wished him or Meagan any ill-will and he knows that. I still don’t know how Judge Wenzel engineered intent in his little head.
In my view it doesn’t matter who posted Meagan’s party letter on Facebook. Wenzel said at sentencing teens should be allowed to make mistakes and not have them broadcast online. Well this wasn’t broadcast and very few would have known about it if Meagan hadn’t gone to the cops. But Wenzel’s thinking concerns me. We do need to report and talk openly about teens who break the law drinking and driving or steal things cause they are on drugs. I think all names should be printed, of the accused, the complainant, or the alleged victim regardless of anyone’s age in underage drinking, domestic violence, teen larceny, forgery though fake ids etc…Printing names works as a watchdog. It’s up to a reader to decided what they believe or what they think is important news so we should print all the details we can find.
Paul never tried to sue me for libel or defamation…instead he used the court because he was mad at me and couldn’t settle in his soul why I’d choose journalism over keeping illegal things his family was doing secret. My arrest was just was a distraction to the real news: his daughter was breaking the law, the NCPD was covering up their role in not stopping the Underwood parties (a year later the NCPD finally charged Avery and her mom for another party where the mom was hiding in the closet when the cops came), and a way for the State to try to discredit my byline and scare me into stop writing about problems in their judicial ethics. It’s pure malicious prosecution of a well read journalist and at the end of this I should have the option to sue the town for violations of my civil liberties.
Wenzel even tried to tell me I would violate my appeal bond if didn’t conduct ‘appropriate speech’ about Paul and Meagan. Really Mr. Wenzel I didn’t realize our constitution and supreme court gave you control of free speech these days? Paul had actually asked the Judge to prohibit me speaking about him in the media because he thinks that’s harassment. Really now, If my peers are going to write about this case you bet I’m going to speak and comment. I am a journalist… of course I’m going to speak about what I know to be true and my opinion of the people involved in the case. I could write a whole book about this case and the Brodys if I wanted to but I don’t think that would be a best seller.
Many of you have donated since you heard about the jail sentence and your support means a lot. Both of the editors I freelance for at MarketNexus Media and Bitcoin Magazine have stood by me and continued my freelance contracts. My MarketNexus editor said I could even report from jail if needed. I had five editors I’d worked with in the last few years write letters to Judge Wenzel about the integrity of my reporting ethics and why it’s important for journalist to be able to use anonymous sources without fear of jail if they don’t give them up. Some of their letters are listed below along with other court documents and transcripts.
Until this case is over there are some things I can’t tell you about the case or I’d put sources in danger but I will try to print all legal docs so you can make your own opinion. The CT appeal case docket number is: AC 35606. If these charges stick against me we should all be worried in Fairfield County, CT. Because the State court is simply trying to criminalize speech about uncomfortable subjects.
MarketNexus Editor Letter to Judge Wenzel
The Atlantic Editor Letter to Judge Wenzel
Editor Aaron Krowne Letter to Judge Wenzel
Our Post Verdict Motion which details flaws in State’s Evidence and Wenzel Decision
My Frank’s Hearing Motion where we challenged the info put into my warrant report
Appeal Brief filed 6.19.2013 which explains the judicial errors of Judge Wenzel at trial
State’s response to our Appeal
State v. Buhl Our Response to States Appeal Brief