MEDIA
07/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Las Vegas Review-Journal Ordered To Identify Web Commenters

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A Las Vegas newspaper says it has been served a federal grand jury subpoena seeking information about readers who posted comments on the paper's Web site.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Tuesday that its editor, Thomas Mitchell, plans to fight the request, which the newspaper received after reporting on a federal tax fraud case against business owner Robert Kahre.

The subpoena seeks the identities and personal information about people who posted comments on the story. The newspaper said prosecutors told the judge in the case that some comments hinted at acts of violence and the subpoena was issued out of concern for jurors' safety.

Mitchell said anonymous speech is "a fundamental and historic part of this country." The newspaper would consider cooperating if specific crimes or real threats were presented, he said.

The newspaper said the subpoena bears the name of U.S. Assistant District Attorney J. Gregory Damm, a lawyer on the Justice Department team that is prosecuting Kahre and others on charges including income tax evasion, fraud and criminal conspiracy.

Grand jury proceedings are secret, and the subpoena is not a public record.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney for Nevada declined to comment.

The newspaper said it received the subpoena June 2, a week after its story describing the government's case against Kahre, a Las Vegas construction company executive accused of paying contractors with gold and silver U.S. coins based on the precious metal value of the coins but using the much lower face value of the coins for tax purposes. Kahre and the other defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The story drew nearly 175 online comments by Monday night, most in support of Kahre and critical of the government and jurors and attorneys in the case.

One commentator said: "The sad thing is there are 12 dummies on the jury who will convict him. They should be hung along with the feds."

Another called Damm a "socialist, fascist Mormon" and a "Nazi moron."

The comments are written under pseudonyms. Along with the real names of people who posted comments, the subpoena asks the newspaper for the writers' gender, birth date, physical address, telephone number, Internet service provider, IP address and credit card numbers.

After a 2003 raid on Kahre's business, Kahre and several of his workers sued Damm, two Internal Revenue Service agents and others who were involved. That civil matter is pending.

In 2007, Kahre sued Damm and agents of the FBI and IRS, alleging criminal behavior. U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra dismissed the complaint in December, and Kahre appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Two years ago, Damm prosecuted a similar tax case against nine defendants, including Kahre. The trial ended with no convictions and four acquittals.

Five defendants were partially acquitted, and two of them were dropped from the indictment that generated the current case.