Ex-Web Producer Pleads Not Guilty in Tribune Hacking Case

Matthew Keys, a former Web producer for a Tribune Co.-owned television station in Sacramento, California, pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired with hackers who broke into a company news website.

Keys, of Secaucus, New Jersey, entered the plea today in federal court in Sacramento. He was charged in a March 14 indictment with providing log-in credentials for a Tribune computer server in December 2010 to members of the hacker group known as Anonymous, who used the information to make changes to an online version of a Los Angeles Times news story.

Keys, formerly the Web producer for KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento, encouraged Anonymous members to disrupt the website during a conversation in a online chat room, according to the indictment. Tribune owns the Los Angeles paper. Keys was fired from Fox 40 in October 2010. Keys, who joined Thomson Reuters Corp. last year as a social-media editor, was fired by the company yesterday.

He is charged with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer, and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.

The two latter counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, prosecutors said.

Chat Room

“He was a journalist in that chat room, absolutely, but he didn’t do the things he’s accused of doing,” Jay Leiderman, an attorney for Keys, said in an interview outside the courtroom before today’s arraignment.

After Keys entered his plea, U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire released him on his own recognizance and directed him to appear June 12 for his next hearing.

KTXL learned that its e-mail contact list, located on a company server in Los Angeles, had been compromised in December 2010, according to an FBI affidavit. The station’s news producer began receiving unsolicited e-mails from someone claiming to have the e-mail addresses of Fox 40’s customers.

The producer told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that Keys, who had been let go a month before the hacking, was a potential suspect, according to the affidavit.

Anonymous is a loosely affiliated group of computer hackers who have claimed responsibility for computer crimes including intrusions and denial-of-service attacks on the websites of Amazon.com Inc. and PayPal Inc., among others.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters in providing financial news and information.

The case is U.S. v. Keys, 13-cr-00082, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).