The Reporter & the Prosecutor

Fechter, when asked about his relationship with a federal prosecutor,

initially said, “I’m not sure that is anybody’s business.” But when

asked how people might perceive rumors that he dated Krigsman during

the trial, Fechter asserted, “It was not going on during trial....

Subsequent to the trial ending, we got together. Cherie had accepted a

job here previously, so she came back in late June or July and yeah,

we’ve been seeing each other since then.”

Fechter did confirm that he had received a gift from Krigsman — a shirt

from a U.S. embassy — prior to the start of the trial. He said Krigsman

was thanking him for recommending a synagogue and that he threw the

shirt away.

Fechter was married for 17 years and has two teenage children before

being divorced in August. His ex-wife, Jackie Fechter, declined to

comment other than to say that she first found about the Krigsman

relationship “very, very recently,” long after the reporter had

informed his editors of the affair this spring.

Krigsman, who was in the military for 23 years before joining the

Justice Department, was previously based in Washington, D.C., where one

source who asked not to be named said she had been offered a top

counter-terrorism post. Instead, she opted to return to Tampa, where

she was temporarily assigned since 2004 for the Al-Arian case. She

bought a house in a north Tampa neighborhood in June.

Krigsman’s office referred questions about the relationship to Steve

Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Tampa, who promised a

statement on the matter on Monday but did not produce one.

While it remains unclear if Krigsman’s bosses knew (or approved) of her

relationship, Fechter told his editors in the spring that he could no

longer write about the Al-Arian case because of his closeness to

Krigsman.  Since the end of the trial in Dec. 2005 and the disbanding

of an investigative unit that he worked in, Fechter has reported on

politics and Florida’s 2006 elections.

Tampa Tribune Executive Editor Janet Weaver said Fechter’s disclosure

came just before Al-Arian’s plea bargain in mid-April and shows good

faith on the reporter’s part to be open about the relationship: “Mike’s

work [on the Al-Arian story] long preceded any involvement in the

courts; his background on it long precedes his being acquainted with

her [Krigsman].”

But Weaver acknowledged that the development would be fodder for

critics of the newspaper’s strident Al-Arian investigative coverage.

“I’m not naïve,” Weaver said. “People who look for agendas and bias

will seize onto this. I feel comfortable that when [Fechter] saw this

was moving onto a different direction, he said something.”

Fechter’s role in the Al-Arian story has long been controversial. The

Miami Herald, the St. Petersburg Times, and Creative Loafing

wrote critical accounts, taking the Trib and Fechter to task for what

they said were highly biased accounts and an anti-Arab tilt. The plea

agreement represented at least some degree of vindication for Fechter’s

assertion that Al-Arian operated a nest of terrorists under the noses

of his USF bosses as it became clear that, even if he wasn’t a major

terror leader, Al-Arian did lie to local journalists and civic leaders

about his involvement in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The stories in which Fechter mentions Krigsman do not reveal any

favoritism toward her.  She did figure prominently in his account of a

physical altercation she had with Al-Arian defense lawyer William

Moffitt in which Moffitt lost his temper and bumped her during a court


Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute for Media

Studies in St. Petersburg, said, “Sleeping with sources is not a good

idea.” But she added that it’s not unusual for relationships to

develop. McBride also said that if the Tribune had determined Fechter’s

relationship with Krigsman commenced after he ceased reporting on

Al-Arian, the newspaper had no obligation to report the story.

Advance look from this week's Creative Loafing:


Michael Fechter, whose reporting led to the decade-long federal investigation of Sami Al-Arian, and Cherie Krigsman, one of the case’s federal prosecutors, are an item.

Fechter confirmed to Creative Loafing this week that he and Krigsman have been romantically involved since shortly after the end of Al-Arian’s trial 11 months ago. He said the relationship did not color his reporting on the case because he begged off writing any further Al-Arian stories once he and Krigsman became romantically involved.

Fechter’s newspaper, the Tampa Tribune, has long been accused of bias in the Al-Arian case. The fact that Fechter is dating one of Al-Arian’s three lead federal prosecutors is sure to raise at least a few eyebrows among critics.

The Fechter-Krigsman relationship could also revive legal acrimony about a case that is still being fought out in federal court even this week, months after Al-Arian pleaded to a single count of conspiracy. When told of the relationship by CL, Al-Arian attorney Linda Moreno said, “I’m shocked and stunned. We’ll have to see what comes out about this and what impact it might have on [Al-Arian’s] case.”

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