A former Web producer for KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges of helping a hacker gain unauthorized access to a server, thus facilitating alteration of a Los Angeles Times online story.
Matthew Keys, 26, entered the plea through his attorney, Jason Leiderman, and was ordered released without bail. He is scheduled back in court June 26 for a status conference.
In the courthouse hallway following the proceeding, Leiderman said Keys is innocent. Asked why he is sure of that, the attorney said, "Because he didn't do it."
With Keys looking on, the attorney told reporters that his client is not talking to the press. Keys was accompanied by two women who also would not comment nor identify themselves. While he sat in the spectator section of the courtroom for a time after his arraignment, one of the women held his hand.
The government contends that Keys passed on to the hacker group "Anonymous" log-in credentials to the computer system of the Tribune Co., which owns the Los Angeles Times, Fox 40 and other media properties.
Keys did this in December 2010, according to a federal grand jury indictment, after he was fired in October by Fox 40 but before he moved to New Jersey and took a job with the Reuters news agency in New York.
Keys reported Monday via his Twitter account that he had been fired by Thomson Reuters Corp.
In court Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal, a veteran cyber crimes prosecutor, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire that the government offered Keys a plea deal when he had another attorney and before he was indicted in March, but he turned it down. The terms of the deal could not immediately be determined.
Also Tuesday, Segal turned over to Leiderman a CD containing an FBI interview of Keys. The prosecutor said other evidence will be forthcoming to the defense, but the government will be seeking a protective order limiting its distribution.
Given the charge – intentionally causing damage to a protected computer – if Keys eventually pleads guilty, and with the minimal $17,000 loss to the Tribune Co., he would be looking at a sentencing range of 10 months to two years and three months in prison, Segal told Claire in explaining why he does not believe Keys will be tempted to flee. If the district judge decided on the bottom of the range, it could be split between five months in prison and five months in a halfway house or home detention, the prosecutor added.
The indictment alleges that an Anonymous member, who identifies himself as "Sharpie," used information supplied by Keys in an Internet chat room to break into the Times' Web system.
Anonymous is a group that has claimed responsibility for intruding into, vandalizing and disabling computer systems of governments and private entities.
As far as is known publicly, Sharpie has never been charged with a hacking crime.
According to Leiderman, no one in or out of the government knows who Sharpie is.
"He's still out there, being sharp," the lawyer said.
Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.