Gaspo and The Artist

IT WAS MID-OCTOBER, 1996, and Tom Gasparoli was about to hit the big time. The WCCO-TV investigative reporter was feeling unhappy and unappreciated on the local scene. He'd been toying with the idea of breaking into Hollywood as a screenwriter. So when KCBS-TV in Los Angeles invited him on board, Gaspo jumped at the chance to, in his words, "kick some butt" in the City of Angels.

Then, just two days into his gig at KCBS, Gaspo quit the scene and flew home, jobless and without prospects. His hope, after souring on the L.A. deal, turned to going gung-ho as a freelancer and feeding hot stories to TV tabloids. But as anyone in the business knows, a freelancer's life can be a dog's life.

Such was the position in which Gaspo found himself when he turned on his tape recorder in early February, and the two sisters who'd nannied Prince's short-lived newborn started talking. Over several hours, they made a variety of allegations about what they'd seen while working as bodyguards and personal assistants to the reclusive star's wife, Mayte Nelson-Garcia, during her pregnancy. They also claimed that a week after the October 16 birth of his son, Prince had given the order to have the boy--who suffered from a severe and likely fatal congenital disease called Pfeiffer's Syndrome--disconnected from life support. Arlene and Erlene Mojica had been there. They'd seen it all. Gaspo had their word on that. As luck would have it, he was a freelancer alone at ground zero of what could be the year's hottest celeb story. Where to sell it?

American Journal, the tabloid TV show Gaspo supplied in January with the Prince profile that led him to the sisters' Chaska address, wouldn't take it. Word around newsrooms in the Twin Cities is that he also pitched his interviews to several magazines to no avail. "It's possible," speculates a local TV reporter, "that respectable media would have wanted more than just hearsay. It may have been lacking a certain legitimacy."

The best way to keep the story alive would be to get a official investigation going--either by the police in Minneapolis (where the hospital was located) or the attorney general's office in St. Paul. Which is exactly what happened.

Last Wednesday, Gaspo was a guest on David Brauer's KSTP morning talk show. "It's been reported that Arlene and Erlene Mojica spent five hours in [the MPD's homicide unit]," he told Brauer, though to what report he had in mind isn't clear. "That is correct. The reasons they went to the authorities was because I suggested that they tell the authorities what they knew.
I have not been involved in any investigation since then. The authorities are doing that. I'm not encouraging them. ... I don't know if it's a crime, but it sure didn't sound right to me."

During the broadcast, Gaspo also said the Mojicas were directed to the homicide department after first contacting the attorney general's office, but that he had excused himself from the loop. "I have no attachment to these women whatsoever... I don't have an immediate venue to tell this story. I have no contract with a book publisher, no contract with a magazine. The only contract I have is with my conscience."

Yet Gaspo apparently has played a more crucial role in pushing an investigation than he's admitted. While Joe Loveland, spokesman for the attorney general's office, won't confirm or deny reports that the matter is under investigation, he does say that "two staff people from the [AG's] office did meet with Mr. Gasparoli and two women who claimed to have information about the situation." Loveland did not characterize Gaspo's role in establishing that contact, or what exactly was discussed during the meeting. Gasparoli wouldn't comment to CP about anything connected to the story.

Once the ball got rolling at the AG's office, other media outlets around town started paying attention--though again, not without a little help. "Gaspo gave us the tapes from his interview with the two women," says a KSTP reporter who, like every other media source involved, won't comment for attribution. "Apparently he's gone to all the stations in town, and also shared the material with the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press."

On Friday, the Strib ran a story on a lawsuit brought by Prince that asked for a gag order to keep the Mojicas from talking to the media. The story quoted material from Gaspo's three-and-a-half-hour interview with the former nannies. According to the report, Gaspo has discussed writing a book with the sisters and was a guiding force behind their contact with London's News of the World, which ran its March 25 story under the headline "Prince Pulled Plug on Baby."

Media sources also won't comment on the terms under which Gaspo offered his material. It seems clear he wasn't asking for money; at the same time, pure collegial spirit is an unlikely motivation for a man who, by his own admission, would like nothing better than to make a name for himself. Rather, Gaspo looks to have pursued a back-scratching strategy by making his material available to reputable media whose reports in turn would help legitimize his story. What better way to attract the backing of a book publisher or national media outlet not covered by a local non-compete clause?

Last week, an MPD homicide investigator told CP that "as far as we're concerned, it was a natural death. We don't plan to investigate. There's no case here." Undeterred, Gaspo told his radio audience, "I will be involved in several projects in this story before it's done."

 
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