The FBI acknowledged Wednesday that it had received documents taken from the home of a reporter who worked for CBS-TV in Costa Rica, but said agents had no indication at the time that the material was stolen.
The files belonged to Tony Avirgan, a free-lance cameraman who was investigating a political bombing in Nicaragua that killed eight people. Avirgan later filed suit here against top U.S. and Contra officials he linked to the incident.
The documents came to the FBI from an individual who "unsolicited, voluntarily provided the items in question to an agent," said a statement issued by Washington FBI spokeswoman Sue Schnitzer.
'Gave No Indication'
"This individual gave no indication that the documents were obtained through illegal means," the FBI statement said.
Avirgan's home in Costa Rica was broken into in November, 1985, and again a year later, said Lanny Sinkin, an attorney for the Washington-based Christic Institute, which represents Avirgan in the suit. The thefts were reported to Costa Rican police at the time, but no one was ever arrested.
During preparations for the suit, attorneys routinely asked for any documents the FBI Washington office might have on Avirgan, and the agency responded last month.
"As we went through them, it became clear they were stolen from Tony's home," Sinkin said.
The 39 pages included not only memos to CBS, but Avirgan's handwritten notes about the bombing, he said.
"It suggests that the break-in was targeted to find out what he knew," said Sinkin.
The discovery of the stolen material grew out of a $24-million damage suit filed by Avirgan and his wife, Martha Honey. They accused the defendants of planning the bombing, which slightly injured Avirgan.
A federal judge here threw out the suit last month, but the ruling is now being appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.