Former CBS3 anchor Larry Mendte was charged today with hacking into the personal e-mail of onetime colleague Alycia Lane 537 times from January to May of this year and sharing the information with a Philadelphia Daily News reporter.
"This case ... went well beyond just reading someone's e-mail," said a statement from acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid, who charged Mendte, 51, in an information with one felony count. He is not expected to surrender today.
Mendte poked into the accounts from his seat at the CBS3 anchor desk, from his vacation home and even once from a computer at the Union League, the august Center City club, according to the information. Mendte is a member of the Union League, a spokeswoman confirmed.
Sources said Mendte was expected to plead guilty, and would face zero to six months in prison under sentencing guidelines.
The Daily News reporter was not identified by the U.S. Attorney's Office and Magid said the reporter would not be charged.
Mendte's lawyer, Michael A. Schwartz, said the charge against his client should come as no surprise. "Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators. He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions."
Magid did not give a motive, other than to say the snooping was "an attempt to undermine his former colleague's ongoing legal cases."
On the morning of May 29, FBI agents armed with a search warrant arrived at the Chestnut Hill home Mendte shares with his wife, Fox29 anchor Dawn Stensland. Mendte went to work the next day, but left abruptly.
Sources said that software that secretly captures keystrokes - including passwords - had been installed on a CBS3 computer.
Mendte, 51, grossed more than $700,000 a year as CBS3's marquee anchor. The station fired Mendte three weeks after FBI agents seized his home computer.
CBS3 had no comment on the charges.
The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to address how Mendte had obtained Lane's password.
Mendte was fired nearly six months after CBS3 fired Lane, following her arrest in New York for allegedly hitting a cop.
In the information released by the FBI, Mendte read e-mails from two of Lane's e-mail accounts beginning as early as March 2006. He was charged only with the intrusions from January to May of this year, after Lane was fired.
Lane filed a lawsuit June 19 that claimed Mendte worked to discredit her behind the scenes and that CBS3 defamed her as she was fired from her $800,000-a-year job.
It is illegal under federal law to read another person's e-mails without permission. However, people charged with such a crime are rarely sentenced to prison, unless the crime includes significant economic or physical harm.
Lane had been vexed by apparent leaks of personal information for at least two years, according to her lawsuit against CBS3. In it, she alleges that certain details - including photos of Lane's meeting with Prince Albert of Monaco and the reaction of sports anchor Rich Eisen's wife to photos that Lane had sent - were leaked by someone who had read her e-mails.
Lane and Mendte coanchored CBS3's 6 and 11 p.m. news until Dec. 14. Lane was arrested early Dec. 16 in New York when she was accused of hitting a police officer. Felony charges against Lane have been dropped.