By Dan Levine and Joseph Menn
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A Reuters.com editor maintained his innocence after being suspended with pay on Friday following a federal indictment on charges he aided members of the Anonymous hacking collective.
Matthew Keys, 26, a deputy social media editor, was indicted on Thursday by a federal grand jury in Sacramento, California, on three criminal counts. The alleged events occurred before he joined Thomson Reuters, the indictment indicated.
New York attorney Tor Ekeland said he had been hired by Keys to represent him and that his client "maintains his innocence."
Ekeland told Reuters he was assembling a legal team and that Keys "looks forward to contesting these baseless charges."
On Friday, Keys exchanged tweets with some well-wishers on Twitter, telling one of them, "I'm okay."
Thomson Reuters Corp spokesman David Girardin confirmed Keys' suspension on Friday, but declined additional comment. Keys did not respond to a request for comment.
The indictment accused Keys of giving hackers access to Tribune Co computer systems in December 2010. A story on the Tribune's Los Angeles Times website was soon altered by one of those hackers, the indictment said.
Court filings said Keys had worked for a Tribune-owned television station in Sacramento, operating its Twitter and Facebook feeds. An FBI agent said in a search warrant application that a former colleague told the agency that Keys had been terminated in October 2010.
Keys joined Reuters in New York in January 2012. As deputy social media editor, he promoted stories through Twitter and other means. He lives in Secaucus, New Jersey, the Justice Department said.
Ekeland and a California lawyer working for Keys, Jay Leiderman, laid out a number of defenses, starting with the argument that Keys was acting as a freelance journalist when he was invited to join the Internet Relay Chat channel with elite hackers.
"He was in the chat room interviewing," Leiderman said.
Ekeland said in a video interview with the Huffington Post that while he understood that Keys used the screen name AESCracked at times during the chats recovered by authorities, someone else might have been using that name when AESCracked promised to provide Tribune logon credentials.
Ekeland also said the damage Keys was accused of causing was minor. "It's just sort of a juvenile defacement of a minor story on the L.A. Times website—which he didn't do," Ekeland told the Huffington Post. The maximum for conviction on all three counts would be 25 years in prison, although actual sentences handed down by judges are often far less than the maximum.
Keys wrote on a personal blog and on a Reuters blog that he had previously obtained access to an elite group of hackers, including one known as Sabu.
Sabu, later identified as Hector Xavier Monsegur, became an FBI informant, court records show. Monsegur was publicly identified last year and has pleaded guilty to participating in multiple hacking conspiracies. He is awaiting sentencing.
Ekeland represented alleged AT&T iPad email hacker Andrew Auernheimer, aka "Weev," who was convicted last November on hacking conspiracy and identity fraud charges.
Leiderman's clients include Anonymous member Christopher Doyon, who calls himself Commander X. Doyon was charged with hacking Santa Cruz County, California, computers, but jumped bail and has told Leiderman he is in Canada, Leiderman said.
Keys is scheduled to be arraigned on April 12 in Sacramento, according to the court docket.
The case in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, is United States of America v. Matthew Keys, 13-82.
(Editing by Ciro Scotti and Peter Cooney)