Mendte gets 6 months house arrest

November 26, 2008 5:35:48 AM PST
A fired TV news anchor must serve six months of house arrest for obsessively hacking into his co-anchor's e-mail and leaking gossip that contributed to her downfall. Larry Mendte apologized in court to Alycia Lane, the younger co-anchor whose rising popularity he said he feared.

"I made my job too important," Mendte, 51, said in federal court Monday. "In believing that I was protecting the well-being of my children and my family, I put them both in jeopardy."

Mendte escaped jail time, but has suffered the loss of his career and reputation, U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin noted. She also ordered him to serve three years of probation, perform 250 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. Mendte had faced a guideline range of up to six months in prison.

CLICK HERE for reaction from Lane's attorney

CLICK HERE for reaction from the prosecutor

The former KYW-TV anchor admitted hacking into Lane's e-mail hundreds of times, both before and after the city's CBS affiliate fired her in January after a late-night arrest in New York. Charges over her December scuffle with police were later dropped and she is suing both the station and Mendte.

In court, Mendte and his wife, local Fox anchor Dawn Stensland, offered separate apologies to Lane, who nodded slightly from the front row as Mendte spoke to her.

Lane gave a confidential victim-impact statement to the court but declined comment after the hearing.

Mendte leaked privileged e-mails about her criminal case to the press, and prosecutors say he is the only plausible source of damaging leaks concerning a swimsuit photo she sent a friend, married TV sports anchor Rich Eisen.

Mendte admitted the day of his plea that he felt threatened by Lane, whose $780,000 salary had zoomed past his $700,000 annual pay.

He described their early relationship as "flirtatious, unprofessional and improper" - but said it soured after Stensland learned about it. The twice-divorced Lane vehemently denies any impropriety and has sued him for invasion of privacy and other grounds.

The pair anchored the evening newscasts from 2004 to December 2007. Mendte was fired in June, after the FBI searched his home and office.

"My role at the station was still being diminished when Alycia told me during an argument on the set that she (was) the rising star and that I was '50 and on my way out,"' Mendte said after his Aug. 22 plea to a single-count charge.

"I felt I was in trouble," he continued.

Mendte has two young children with Stensland and two older children from an earlier marriage. The older children joined Mendte's siblings and other relatives in the packed courtroom Monday.

The FBI began investigating Mendte in the spring, when a station employee stumbled upon a computer that was logged into Lane's private e-mail account - nearly 2 months after she was fired.

Federal prosecutors agreed to make no sentencing recommendation, but noted in sentencing documents the damage done to Lane's career and the fact Mendte bought and used a keystroke device to access her e-mail.

"What we are dealing with here is a two-year assault on the privacy of another person," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy told the judge.

Mendte, a former "Access Hollywood" anchor, has been active in the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and other charities. Dozens of friends and supporters wrote letters to McLaughlin calling his crime an aberration.

Stensland, the only character witness to testify, told Lane that her husband feels only sorrow for what he did to her. "He's told me that at least 10,000 times, Alycia, and I wanted you to know that," she said.

Lane, 36, is suing KYW for wrongful termination and Mendte for invasion of privacy. The New York criminal charges were dropped as part of a pretrial probation program.

"The only public life she wanted was her news anchor career. Larry Mendte's criminal conduct destroyed that career and made her a tabloid feeding frenzy," Paul Rosen, her lawyer, said in a statement Monday.

He seemed satisfied with the sentence afterward, and said he was confident that Lane, who is not currently working, can revive her career.

"Now that this is behind her, her opportunities for her career are right where they should be," Rosen said.

Lane and her boyfriend, radio personality Chris Booker, left the courthouse on foot to walk to her nearby home.

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