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News Executives Charged with Computer Hacking

May 12, 1989 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A prosecutor pursuing a case against two former television news executives charged with tapping into the computer of a competing station says such a crime is similar to burglary.

Former WTSP-Channel 10 news director Terry Cole and Michael Shapiro, assistant news director at the ABC affiliate, were charged Wednesday with 17 counts of computer hacking and conspiracy in the theft of information through computer phone lines. They were scheduled for a May 19 court appearance.

″It’s no different than digging a tunnel under their office and coming up and rummaging through their desks,″ Chief Assistant State Attorney Chris Hoyer said. ″It’s high-tech burglary.″

If convicted, each could get up to 85 years in prison.

They are accused of raiding the files of WTVT-Channel 13, a CBS affiliate between November 1988 and January.

Before joining WTSP, Shapiro was an assignment manager at WTVT and helped set up security for that station’s newsroom computer, including passwords and identification codes intended to keep files confidential.

Shapiro, 33, was arrested in February. Cole, 32, his boss, was arrested in April.

Vincent Barresi, general manager of WTSP, said his station has never condoned hacking and that Shapiro and Cole were fired.

Hoyer nevertheless said he is considering a civil lawsuit to seize the station’s assets under Florida’s racketeering laws, which let an organization be penalized for profiting from criminal activity.

″Hopefully that would not be the case,″ WTSP attorney C. Philip Campbell Jr. said. ″The station continues to cooperate. It’s in Mr. Hoyer’s hands.″

Hoyer said his decision on a racketeering lawsuit will be affected by whether WTVT sues WTSP.

″They’re the victims in this case and we’re waiting to see what they do,″ Hoyer said.

WTVT news director Bob Franklin said corporate executives were still discussing that decision with attorneys.