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No-Contest Plea in FX Case

The ex-cable network publicist eavesdropped on executive conference calls after he was fired.

September 21, 2004|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

A former top television publicist pleaded no contest Monday to one count of criminal wiretapping for eavesdropping on more than 100 executive conference calls at cable network FX after he was fired.

Steve Webster, 38, the network's former vice president of publicity, entered an "open plea," leaving it up to a judge to give him a sentence that could range from probation to three years in state prison.

Webster's lawyer, David Scheper, said his client was "unconditionally remorseful" about what he did and should not go to prison.

"He's a good man, and a perfect fit for probation," Scheper said.

Webster, who was fired from the network in July 2001, was accused of continuing to dial in undetected to top-level conference calls in which executives discussed confidential strategies. Webster kept listening in on the calls even after he found other work, first at the Game Show Network and, later, at Universal Television Group, where until recently he was senior vice president of publicity.

"In an industry town like this, where you have an executive with one entertainment company listening in on another company, it's obviously pretty distressing," Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey McGrath said.

The Manhattan Beach resident, who is the brother-in-law of tennis great Pete Sampras and husband of UCLA tennis coach Stella Sampras Webster, is portrayed in court documents as intensely bitter toward FX and his former mentor, FX President Peter Liguori.

Search warrants made public show that Webster e-mailed information he learned from the calls to such publications as Multichannel News and the Hollywood Reporter.

The search warrants also included a lengthy fax sent anonymously to Peter Chernin, president of FX parent News Corp., the day Chernin was to meet with FX executives. In it, Webster disparaged the network, its shows and Liguori.

Webster is free on $10,000 bail. His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 18.

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