CBS3 yesterday released anchorman Larry Mendte from his contract 31/2 weeks after FBI agents seized his home computer amid allegations that he illegally broke into former coanchor Alycia Lane's e-mail.
Sources said an internal investigation at CBS3 disclosed that software that secretly captures keystrokes - including passwords - had been installed on a station computer.
Mendte's firing came nearly six months after CBS3 fired Lane, following her arrest in New York for allegedly hitting a cop.
What began as a series of gossip-page scandals embarrassing Lane has morphed into a federal criminal investigation and a sexual-discrimination lawsuit.
The FBI is looking into whether Mendte illegally accessed Lane's e-mails and leaked information from them to the media, including an angry message from a wife upset that Lane sent bikini photos to her husband.
Six months ago, when Lane was fired, Mendte represented a strong public face for the station. But on Thursday, Lane filed a lawsuit in which she said Mendte worked to discredit her behind the scenes and that CBS3 defamed her as she was fired from her $800,000-a-year job.
Now, Mendte, who had about a year left on his contract, has been fired from his $700,000-a-year job.
Mendte's lawyer, Michael Schwartz, said Mendte was notified of the station's decision before it was made public. Schwartz declined to talk about the investigation or specifics about Mendte's career, except to say: "We continue to work with the federal authorities and expect a prompt resolution of this matter. I fully expect that Larry will resume his broadcasting career."
CBS3 said the claims in Lane's suit had no merit.
As of yesterday, Mendte, 51, had not been charged with any crime.
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.
The Mendte case broke publicly late last month, when FBI agents armed with a search warrant arrived at the Chestnut Hill home he shares with his wife, Fox29 anchor Dawn Stensland. Mendte went to work the next day, but left abruptly.
Stensland is not suspected of any wrongdoing, sources said.
In a statement read during the 6 p.m. news yesterday, CBS3 anchor Susan Barnett said that Mendte was "released" effective immediately and that he was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Patty Hartman, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan, said she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of a Mendte investigation.
Mendte's image and bio were removed yesterday from the station's Web site, which also carried a brief statement about his termination.
The station said the decision to let Mendte go was based on an independent investigation conducted by CBS.
Joanne Calabria, a station spokeswoman, would not elaborate on the scope of the investigation or say whether Mendte has been paid since he was last on the air May 29. The station had made it clear that he had not been suspended. Those released from such contracts typically get no severance.
Mendte and Lane shot to success after they were thrust together on the air in September 2003 - the Delaware County-reared Mendte, who had spent six years on NBC10, and the Long Islander considered a rising star at a station in Miami.
Sources said Mendte accessed Lane's private e-mail account hundreds of times over many months before and after her firing.
Lane used that compromised Yahoo account to send and receive messages to and from her lawyers, sources said.
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.
Asked why he filed the suit last week, during the federal investigation, Lane attorney Paul Rosen said he was "forced to do so" because KYW would not modify a court-ordered deadline to permit him to file the complaint later.
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 were dropped, and summary charges are expected to be dropped later this summer. At that point, her record will be cleared.
During Mendte's absence, Barnett has been teamed on the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts with Chris May, who joined the station in October.