Former CBS3 anchor Larry Mendte was a man obsessed, if a record compiled by federal investigators is any measure, hacking into the personal e-mail of onetime colleague Alycia Lane 537 times in 146 days, checking in 10 or more times on busy days.
He logged in from home, his desk at work, his Shore home in Ocean City, and even the Union League. He did so virtually round the clock, at 3:03 a.m. one time and 4:18 a.m. another, and each and every day in January after Lane was fired from CBS3 and nearly every day after that. He passed on some of the information to a Philadelphia Daily News gossip columnist.
The details of Mendte's spying are spelled out in a federal information charging him with a single felony count of accessing e-mail without authorization, to which he is expected to plead guilty. A hearing is set for Aug. 22.
It takes all but seven of the complaint's 24 pages to detail Mendte's access to Lane's e-mail from Jan. 1 until May 26 - three days before FBI agents took a computer from the Chestnut Hill home he shares with his wife, Fox29 anchor Dawn Stensland.
Federal prosecutors said that the spying began earlier than that - in March 2006 - but that there is no remaining digital record to say when or from where.
"The defendant here is charged with a systematic pattern of intrusion that included not a dozen incidents, not a hundred incidents, but hundreds of incidents," acting U.S. Attorney Laurie Magid said.
Magid said Mendte, 51, shared information he obtained - including privileged communications between Lane and her attorney - with the columnist "in an attempt to undermine his former colleague's ongoing legal cases."
"This case . . . went well beyond just reading someone's e-mail," Magid said.
Mendte, one of the city's top TV news anchors until his recent downfall, faces up to six months in prison under sentencing guidelines.
"Larry has been cooperating fully with the investigators," his lawyer, Michael A. Schwartz, said. "He continues to cooperate and will accept full responsibility for his actions."
The federal charging document does not say how Mendte obtained his coanchor's passwords.
Sources said Mendte installed a small keystroke-logger device - typically attached to the cord between the keyboard and computer - to obtain Lane's passwords.
Mendte and Lane anchored CBS3's 6 and 11 p.m. news until Dec. 14. Two days later, Lane was arrested in New York, accused of hitting a police officer. Felony charges against Lane were reduced in February and are to be dismissed next month if she stays out of trouble. She has sued CBS for wrongful dismissal.
The federal complaint ties Mendte's spying to at least five stories that appeared in the Daily News about Lane's arrest and legal action related to that and her firing.
According to sources, Mendte passed along information gleaned from the e-mails to Daily News columnist Dan Gross, who is not identified in the complaint.
Magid said no one else would be charged in the investigation.
Gross wrote in an e-mail: "I don't discuss whether anyone is or is not a source of mine."
Sources said there was no indication that Gross, who was not interviewed by the FBI, knew where Mendte got his information - at least not until the story broke that Mendte was under investigation for cyber-spying.
Daily News editor Michael Days said the paper had no comment.
The complaint also links Mendte to the exchange of e-mails between Lane and the wife of ESPN anchor Rich Eisen's wife over bikini photos Lane sent him in April 2007. That scandal was reported in the New York Post, which did not say how it obtained the details. According the complaint, copies of those e-mails and photos were found on Mendte's home computer.
Paul R. Rosen, attorney for Lane, called the charge against Mendte "the tip of the iceberg regarding his conduct."
Rosen said the Emmy winner had acted out of jealousy, and he traced what he called "the seeds of Mendte" to a new contract Lane signed in April 2006. Mendte allegedly first accessed her e-mail a month before, during her negotiations.
"From this charge, it would appear there are two faces of Larry Mendte," Rosen said. "One is the false face to Alycia Lane as a friend and coanchor and the second is the dark side of Larry Mendte, where he methodically set out to destroy his coanchor's life, both professionally and publicly."
Mendte, according to a suit filed by Lane against CBS3, grossed more than $700,000 a year as CBS3's marquee anchor. He was fired three weeks after FBI agents seized his home computer.
CBS3, also known as KYW, had no comment on the charges. The station led its evening news broadcast last night with the case.
Lane filed the lawsuit June 19, contending that Mendte had worked to discredit her behind the scenes and that CBS3 had defamed her as she was fired from her $800,000-a-year job.
The suit said Lane had been vexed by apparent leaks of personal information for at least two years.
Read the federal document at http://go.philly.