AG files criminal charges against Dunn, others

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer files criminal charges against HP's chairman and others involved in leak probe.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed criminal charges Wednesday against Hewlett-Packard's embattled former chairman, Patricia Dunn, and four others involved in HP's spying campaign, according to court records filed in Santa Clara, Calif.

The others charged were Kevin T. Hunsaker, HP's former senior lawyer; Ronald DeLia, a private detective; Joseph DePante, owner of data-brokering company Action Research Group; and Bryan Wagner, a Colorado man believed to have been an employee of Action Research, according to the filing in Santa Clara County Superior Court. (Click here for PDF of filing or here for PDF of supporting documentation.)

Lockyer announces charges

Dunn, who documents show was intimately involved in the investigation , had been notified that the charges would be filed against her, a source close to her told CNET News.com.

The five face four felony charges: fraudulent wire communications, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft and conspiracy to commit those three crimes.

The felony complaint had been expected ever since Lockyer said in a TV interview last month that he had proof crimes were committed in HP's attempt to uncover the source of news leaks within its ranks. The company has acknowledged that as part of its investigation, HP obtained private telephone records belonging to some of those spied on through false pretenses.

Since news of HP's leak hunt came to light early last month, Dunn, Hunsaker and two other HP executives have resigned. The scandal also threatens to undermine the leadership of CEO Mark Hurd, who has admitted to approving some of the methods used by company investigators.

But Hurd has denied knowing about "pretexting," the practice of misleading employees of banks and telephone companies into divulging individuals' private records.

The felony complaint was first reported in advance of its filing early Wednesday by The New York Times (registration required) and BusinessWeek.

At that point, Hunsaker's attorney, Michael Pancer, told News.com he had not seen any such complaint and declined to comment further. Calls to Lockyer's office were not returned.

If convicted of the four felonies, Dunn and the others accused could be sentenced to between six and nine years in jail, said Jon Pettis, a San Diego-based criminal defense lawyer. He added that none of the statutes involved prohibits probation, which is often given in white collar cases where defendants have no prior criminal history.

Pettis noted that law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly skilled at computer forensics and prosecuting crimes similar to the ones of which Dunn and the other HP investigators are accused.

"Previously police would have to find the smoking gun," Pettis said. "Those don't exist anymore because people shred their documents now. But most metropolitan police departments have the expertise to find information on a computer's hard drive even if the owner has attempted to erase it."

That is, of course, if the hard drive still exists.

According to a source close to Wagner, who is believed to have gathered many of the telephone records involved in the HP leak hunt, the 29-year-old has already destroyed his computer's hard drive with a hammer. If authorities can prove someone has destroyed evidence in anticipation of a search, then they can charge the person with obstruction of evidence, Pettis said.

The investigation was launched following a series of news stories published in 2005 about HP's former CEO Carly Fiorina and the hiring of Hurd, including information that led Dunn and other HP board members to suspect someone high up in the company was leaking information.

HP had already employed security experts and private investigators for a long time to help protect intellectual property. DeLia, for example, has worked for HP for eight years. And in documents released last week by a congressional subcommittee investigating the probe, he said about half of his business comes from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company.

The investigation's first phase, which the company called "Kona I," began in the spring of 2005. A second phase, "Kona II," was quickly ramped up last January when News.com quoted an unnamed source in a story about an HP board meeting .

Besides obtaining private records, HP investigators also gained access to Social Security numbers belonging to some of those they spied on, the company has said.

Lockyer has called for a press conference at 4 p.m. PDT. One of the questions he'll likely be asked is whether charges could be forthcoming against others involved in HP's leak probe.

Notably missing from those charged Wednesday were Anthony Gentilucci, the former manager of HP's global investigations and Ann Baskins, the company's former general counsel. Both resigned from the company last month.

In documents supplied to Congress by HP, it was made clear that Gentilucci helped oversee HP's probe and Baskins, too, was kept informed about the company's investigation.

 

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