PHILADELPHIA — A fired TV newscaster was charged Monday with hacking into the e-mail of his glamorous younger co-anchor hundreds of times for more than two years, as leaked information about her personal life helped lead to her own downfall.
Federal prosecutors say former KYW-TV anchor Larry Mendte gained access to Alycia Lane's accounts from home and at work _ about 537 times between January and May alone _ and shared some of the information he found with a reporter. Lane's attorney said the motive was jealousy, but authorities were silent on Mendte's motive and his method.
"The mere accessing and reading of privileged information is criminal," acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said. "This case, however, went well beyond just reading someone's e-mail."
The allegations are the latest in what is playing out as a titillating local news rivalry that has already ended Lane's career at KYW-TV, the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. She was fired in January after a series of embarrassing off-camera incidents, including a scuffle with a New York City police officer.
Now the scandal revolves around Mendte's alleged off-camera conduct. A one-count information charges Mendte, who co-anchored the news with Lane for more than four years, with a felony count of intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization.
Mendte, 51, was fired last month after FBI agents searched his home and seized his computer.
"As we continually have said from day one, Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators," said his attorney, Michael Schwartz. "He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions."
After accessing Lane's e-mail, Mendte contacted a Philadelphia Daily News reporter and relayed details about her criminal case in New York, including a change in a hearing date and other information, prosecutors said.
Lane's attorney Paul Rosen said he believes Mendte also was behind other leaks that got his client into the gossip pages, including one last year in which she e-mailed photos of herself in a bikini to NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen. Eisen's wife intercepted the pictures.
Authorities found a picture of Lane in a bikini on Mendte's computer, though there are no charges connected to the image.
Rosen alleged that Mendte acted out of jealousy, starting when Lane was offered a new contract in February 2005. Lane was making $780,000, or about $100,000 more than her co-anchor, he said.
"Her star was climbing, while his was not climbing," Rosen said. "... His conduct was designed to undermine her."
Mendte and Lane anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts from September 2003 until Lane was fired. In a statement, a station official declined to comment on the charge against Mendte.
Mendte has been off the air since May 29, the day his home was searched and computer seized. He was fired June 23, days after Lane filed a lawsuit in which she alleged, among other things, that keeping Mendte on the payroll during a federal probe amounted to sex discrimination.
In firing Lane, the station said her confrontation with a New York police officer made it "impossible for Alycia to continue to report the news as she, herself, has become the focus of so many news stories."
New York prosecutors in February downgraded felony charges that Lane struck the officer, and a judge pledged to drop the remaining charges in August if she is not arrested again.
Mendte, who is married to local Fox news anchor Dawn Stensland, joined the station in July 2003 after several years at the local NBC affiliate. He previously co-hosted "Access Hollywood" and worked at stations in Chicago, San Diego and New York.
Federal guidelines call for a sentence of up to six months in prison if Mendte is found guilty.