July 21, 2008— -- Longtime television newscaster Larry Mendte was charged Monday with illegally accessing the e-mail of his glamorous former co-anchor, who suspected details of her social life were being leaked to gossip columnists.
Federal prosecutors issued a one-count information charging Mendte, a former KYW-TV anchor, with a felony count of intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization.
Authorities said he repeatedly hacked into the accounts of Alycia Lane, whose personal life had routinely become tabloid fodder and eventually led to her own dismissal from the station.
"People expect that e-mail in a password-protected personal e-mail account is private," acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said. "The mere accessing and reading of privileged information is criminal. This case, however, went well beyond just reading someone's e-mail."
Mendte gained access to Lane's accounts for more than two years, prosecutors said. In a four-month span starting in January, Mendte accessed her accounts approximately 537 times, authorities said.
He was fired from Philadelphia's CBS affiliate last month after FBI agents searched his home and seized his computer. His attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the charge against Mendte "should not come as a surprise to anyone."
"As we continually have said from day one, Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators. He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions," Schwartz said Monday.
Lane was fired from KYW in January after a series of embarrassing off-camera incidents, including her arrest following a late-night scuffle with plainclothes police in New York City.
Lane later sued the station, alleging it maliciously damaged her reputation by deliberately promoting her personal life to generate publicity. The station has denied Lane's allegations.
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 her lawsuit in which she also alleged that keeping Mendte on the payroll during a federal probe amounted to sex discrimination.
Lane began to suspect this year that her e-mail was being accessed and forwarded to news outlets that have covered her career and social life.
Mendte and Lane anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts from September 2003 until Lane was fired. Her lawyer has said Mendte was jealous because she was making $700,000 a year at the time she was fired, somewhat more than Mendte's salary.
Federal guidelines call for a sentence of up to six months in prison if Mendte is found guilty.