Ex-FXer Webster Faces Sentence

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Former FX vice president Steve Webster pleaded no contest in Los Angeles last Tuesday to charges he illegally wiretapped FX conference calls for more than two years after he left the network.

Webster, who remains free on $10,000 bail, will be sentenced on Nov. 18. Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner Dennis Mulcahy told Webster he faces a sentence ranging from probation to up to three years in state prison.

“He [Webster] is sorry for what he did, and he hopes to persuade the sentencing court that he should receive a sentence of probation and get on with his life,” Webster’s attorney, David Scheper, said last week.

HACKED INTO CALLS

Webster, 38, worked as vice president of publicity at FX between 1999 and July 2001. Prosecutors claimed that between July 31, 2001 and Jan. 20, 2004, Webster wiretapped or attempted to access 260 weekly conference calls between senior FX executives. During that time, Webster worked for Sony Pictures’ Game Show Network and later Universal Television Group. Webster no longer works for either company.

Prosecutors built their case partly on a series of e-mail messages Webster sent to former colleagues and to reporters after he left FX.

In e-mail messages included in an affidavit from the district attorney’s office, Webster denigrated FX president Peter Liguori and leaked information about FX which he appeared to have gathered by listening in on FX conference calls after he left the network.

In an e-mail Webster sent to The Hollywood Reporter scribe Andrew Wallenstein on April 7, 2003, regarding a potential dispute between EchoStar Communications Corp. and FX, Webster wrote, “Let’s just say that I did not get this information second hand … I heard it myself. That is about as good a source as any, wouldn’t you say?”

Court documents also show that Webster sent an e-mail to Multichannel News reporter R. Thomas Umstead on Dec. 10, 2002, more than a year after he left the network, in which Webster says he is “hearing that FX is planning to raise their affiliates rates from anywhere to 45 and 60 cents per sub .. How in the world could they even think about such a thing when even this past week their primetime rating is down 8% overall and 10% in demos.”

SEARCHED HOME

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said it began investigating Webster in October 2003, and that it served a search warrant on his home and office in February. He was arrested in July.

Scheper said that Webster hopes to work again in public relations, and possibly return to cable.

“I hope that people that know Steve best will remember the Steve they know best, and they will realize, after Steve’s sentencing proceeding, that what he did was an aberration, it doesn’t reflect the real person. It’s regrettable conduct that he’s going to put behind him, and he’s going to hope that his friends and the people he worked with are going to realize, he’s the same good man he always was.”

Scheper declined to arrange an interview with Webster.

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