Prosecutors ponder the value of free papers after thefts

MICHIGAN, TEXAS — For free newspapers that face newspaper theft, finding suspects is only half the battle. As many papers have discovered, the real struggle begins in convincing university disciplinary boards and local police to prosecute the thieves.While some administrators and prosecutors appreciate the value of free papers, others maintain that free papers cannot be stolen. Two free papers that were stolen recently are experiencing opposite ends of the spectrum of official cooperation.The University of Michigan’s paper, The Michigan Daily, is finding out what happens when prosecutors refuse to pursue. Approximately 8,700 issues of the paper were stolen in March, allegedly by a minority group on campus.Even before the group was targeted as suspects, however, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office decided not to prosecute the case because, they declared, “the papers were offered to the public free, they have no value for larceny purposes.”The paper lost about $10,000 in advertising revenue for the papers that were stolen and cannot afford to pursue a civil case. Editors at the paper have chosen, instead, to lobby the state legislature to make the theft of free papers a crime.State Rep. Liz Brader (D-Ann Arbor) has agreed to sponsor a bill, and will introduce it during the upcoming legislative session.At the University of Texas at Austin, however, prosecutors have pressed forward with the prosecution of a man accused of stealing 5,800 issues of the paper last October.The case against Corrado Giovanella is set to go to jury trial the first week in September, according to Kathy Lawrence, general manager of Texas Student Publications.Giovanella allegedly took the papers from newsstands right after they were distributed because an article exposed him for trying to apply to the university with forged letters of recommendation. Daily Texan staffers have said they will also likely pursue a civil suit.