FBI searches LA agency's office in newsroom e-mail theft prob

The American FBI has been called in to investigate allegations of "story stealing" from the computers of Us Weekly magazine.

Target of the enquiry is a former Us employee who left the magazine last year to start a freelance photo agency in Los Angeles.

The staff of Us has told the FBI that they started getting suspicious a few months ago when they noticed several of their gossip items about celebrities – which they thought they had exclusively – began showing up in other publications.

They then discovered that a celebrity whom one of their reporters was interviewing already knew about an e-mail exchange between the reporter and one of the magazine's editors, suggesting someone was eavesdropping on the magazine's computer system.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the target of the FBI investigation is a former Us employee, Jill Ishkanian, who left the magazine last year to start an agency called Sunset Photos and News.

FBI agents have searched both her home and office, the Los Angeles paper reports.

Ishkanian’s lawyer told the Los Angeles Times that after Ishkanian left Us, she continued to work for the celebrity gossip magazine as a freelance and that the management had approved of her having access to the computer system. Many people, the lawyer added, had the password to the system.

The lawyer suggested that editors at Us were upset because their former employee has scooped the magazine on several stories since leaving the magazine, including the romantic travails of Charlie Sheen and his estranged wife Denise Richards and similar stories about rock star Richie Sambora and his estranged wife Heather Locklear.

Officially, Us magazine has declined to comment on the investigation, but one "inside source" quoted in the LA Times said the magazine became suspicious when it sent a reporter to interview singer Nick Lacey, who was said to be romantically linked with a former Miss Kentucky. When the reporter arrived he discovered Sunset Photo was already on the scene.

A spokeswoman for the FBI confirmed the agency had searched Ishkanian's home and office but as the investigation continues – and the search warrants are still under seal – the agency could provide no further details. A computer that had been seized by the FBI has since been returned.

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