CBS 3 ANCHOR
has been benched in connection with a federal probe into whether he illegally read private e-mails of former colleague
Mendte "will not be on CBS 3's broadcasts pending further investigation," station spokeswoman Joanne Calabria confirmed yesterday.
"On Thursday, federal investigators approached Larry Mendte as a result of claims made by Alycia Lane," said Mendte's lawyer Michael A. Schwartz. "We have cooperated fully with authorities and we continue to cooperate with the authorities," Schwartz told us.
On Thursday afternoon, FBI agents showed up at Mendte's Chestnut Hill home, where he lives with his wife, Dawn Stensland, a Fox 29 anchor, and took "computer-related materials," Schwartz says.
Asked for a reaction to Mendte being benched by CBS 3, Schwartz yesterday said: "We hope to work together with CBS 3 to reach a mutually agreeable resolution as to his status."
CBS 3 says it "became aware of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office" regarding Mendte and that the station is "cooperating fully with that office in this investigation." Mendte arrived for work Friday, but did not appear on the 6 or 11 p.m. newscasts.
A CBS 3 staffer said that on Friday there was an awkward vibe in the newsroom as staffers felt that something wasn't right, but weren't sure what. Later, word began to spread about a federal investigation relating to Mendte, 51, a Lansdowne native and graduate of Monsignor Bonner High.
He retained the services of Schwartz, of the Pepper Hamilton firm, on Thursday. Schwartz worked for 14 years at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia.
Asked whether his client told the FBI that she believed her e-mail had been compromised, Lane's attorney, Paul Rosen, said: "I can't answer that question during the investigation." He replied the same way when we asked whether Lane had told the feds that she believed it was Mendte who hacked her e-mails.
"Alycia and I cooperated with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in their investigation of computer crimes by persons invading Alycia's private computer communications," Rosen said yesterday in an e-mail. "The evidence the FBI accumulated and the direction of the investigation, ultimately resulting in the seizure of Larry Mendte's computers, was solely determined by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office and not Alycia Lane," he said.
Independent of the computer-access investigation, Rosen, of Spector Gadon and Rosen, and Lane are currently involved in a lawsuit against CBS 3 regarding her termination in January after being arrested in New York and charged with hitting a female police officer. Lane was later cleared and the case is expected to be dismissed this summer.
Asked about when Lane discovered that her e-mail had been compromised or for how long she believes the alleged cyber-snooping had taken place, Rosen said: "The scope of the investigation is unknown to me." He gave a similar answer when asked if Lane believed that any information in her e-mails had been forwarded or shared.
FBI spokeswoman Jerri Williams declined to comment yesterday. U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Patricia Hartman yesterday said she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Mendte and Lane anchored together for more than four years, and during that time their professional relationship had peaks and valleys. In October 2005, we reported that the pair had an on-set shouting match after a newscast that began with an argument over a news story and ended up with Mendte saying essentially that Lane's job was to read off a TelePrompTer and her telling him that his star was fading, while hers was on the rise.
Before arriving at CBS 3 in 2003, Mendte anchored for six years at NBC 10. He previously served as a co-anchor of "Access Hollywood," and had worked at stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Diego.
He has dabbled with the idea of running for office. In October 2007, he confirmed that he had been approached by GOP officials in Delaware County to possibly run for the congressional seat later won by Democrat Joe Sestak.
Mendte said that he was flattered, but had to pass. "I am staunchly independent and I like the job I have," he told us at the time. "I have the opportunity to do a lot of good for a lot of people right here." *
Staff writer Regina Medina contributed to this report.