Marco Gaudino (R) leaving court in Tampa after entering a guilty plea in the Tim Burke case. Marco Gaudino (R) leaving court in Tampa after entering a guilty plea in the Tim Burke case. (WFLA.)

The crucial debate in the Tim Burke case is about if Burke’s actions were criminal or just the “good journalism” his attorneys have claimed. And a guilty plea from alleged co-conspirator Marco Gaudino Monday, and Gaudino’s attorney’s comments on that, add some interesting dimensions to that discussion.

Burke, a former Deadspin writer and editor who now runs his own Burke Communications consulting firm, was charged with 14 federal crimes in February around alleged actions to illegally access and publish video files from organizations including Fox News (particularly in dispute there are some unaired clips from Tucker Carlson’s show), CBS News Radio, and the NBA. That came nine months after the FBI raid on Burke’s house and the seizure of his devices, and after several public statements from Burke and his legal team, including Burke’s comment that “Finding and reporting on newsworthy content is not a crime” and attorney Michael Maddux’s line that “He’s just a person attempting to do good journalism.”

But the charges here go beyond just Burke. As Matthew Keys reported at The Desk earlier this month, 24-year-old Marco Gaudino of Auburn, Washington (who operated the @EyewitnessZunes account on Twitter/X) was charged with a single count of criminal conspiracy around this case over alleged sharing of news organization and league passwords with Burke. Keys reported then that Gaudino had accepted a plea deal and would cooperate with authorities, which could include testifying against Burke if Burke’s case goes to trial. And Gaudino officially entered that 32-page plea document in court Monday. Here’s that, via WFTS ABC Action News 6 (Tampa) on Scribd:

Marco Gaudino Plea by ABC Action News

Here’s more on that in a new piece from Keys.

Appearing in federal court and speaking through his attorney on Monday, 24-year-old Marco Gaudino said he understood the conspiracy allegedly involving journalist Timothy Burke was a crime, and he was willing to accept full responsibility for his actions.

In exchange, federal prosecutors have agreed to not pursue additional computer hacking charges against Gaudino, and will ask a federal judge overseeing his case to punish him to the lower end of the sentencing guidelines, which could see him earn little to no prison time.

A conspiracy conviction typically carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though judges rarely impose harsh sentences on defendants like Gaudino, who has no prior criminal history.

…Gaudino has already provided significant support to federal investigators, to include flying across the country to meet with agents and prosecutors who are pursuing the case against Burke, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Trezevant said in federal court on Monday.

As per Dan Sullivan and Justin Garcia of The Tampa Bay Times, the plea saw prosecutors agree “to pursue a penalty for Gaudino at the low end of what federal sentencing guidelines suggest.” And Gaudino’s lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Adam Allen, had some notable comments on this in court and to media after entering that plea.

“He understands what he did was a crime,” his attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Adam Allen, said after Monday’s hearing. “And he understands that there’s consequences for what he did. And he’s prepared to accept those consequences.”

…Allen, speaking with reporters after the hearing, characterized his client as a naive young man, fascinated by music and TV, who spends “90% of his life in front of a computer screen.”

…His attorney told the judge that Gaudino has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and “adjustment disorder with depressed mood” and that he takes prescribed medication for anxiety and depression.

That piece also has a counter-comment from Mark Rasch, one of Burke’s lawyers. Rasch told the Times “Tim Burke has never met the man and doesn’t know him at all.” And Maddux, another one of Burke’s attorneys, told local NBC affiliate WFLA’s Kevin Accettulla and Melissa Martino “We are looking forward to having the full story revealed. Tim’s investigative journalism considered in the context of all the circumstances surrounding how the internet works will reveal a different perspective on his work.”

Of course, just because Gaudino has pled guilty to a crime does not mean that Burke will be found guilty of a crime. There are numerous complications with this case. Those include debates on how public the posted credential lists were, how newsworthy the acquired material was, if there’s a difference between publishing information obtained through posted credentials versus information obtained through internal sources, and if there are distinctions to draw between employees of traditional media organizations and independent citizens.

If Burke’s case does wind up going to court, all of those arguments will likely feature in the trial. And the trial would receive a massive amount of attention given its potential implications for journalism. While the Burke case is relatively unique to date in the specifics of what the government is alleging, a conviction would set significant boundaries on what journalists can and can’t do and establish that this kind of action is a “crime,” while an acquittal would provide some legal backing for this kind of approach. We’re a long way from a trial yet, but it’s certainly notable to see Gaudino formally enter this plea and to see his attorney state “He understands what he did was a crime.”

[The Desk, The Tampa Bay Times, WFLA ]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.