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Investigators charged in connection with HP spying case

Two men linked to HP's 2006 "pretexting" scandal were charged last week with conspiracy to commit fraud.

In 2006, HP Chairman Patricia Dunn (bottom left)--with the approval of then CEO Mark Hurd (bottom right)--sent private detectives to spy on board members and reporters from such publications as the Wall Street Journal and CNET Greg Sandoval for CNET/HP

A father-and-son team of private investigators was charged in federal court last week on charges of conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud in connection with Hewlett-Packard's 2006 spying scandal, a court representative confirmed today.

The charges filed Thursday against Matthew DePante and his father, Joseph DePante, in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., stem from allegations that HP had indirectly hired their Florida-based private investigation firm, Action Research Group--a subcontractor to another firm--to probe boardroom leaks to journalists, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In what evolved into an embarrassing boardroom drama, HP came under fire for employing the now illegal practice of "pretexting," or obtaining personal information under false pretenses. Among the journalists and board members targeted were three CNET News reporters and one reporter's father.

The DePantes were named in a court document known as an "information," the Chronicle story explains, which typically signifies that a defendant intends to plead guilty. In fact, the court calendar shows that they are due back before a judge tomorrow.

According to the Chronicle, authorities said the two directed other investigators, "posing as account holders or employees of phone companies, to fraudulently obtain personal information including phone numbers, date of birth, Social Security numbers, call logs, billing records and subscriber information."

Related charges against then HP Chairman Patricia Dunn were eventually dismissed. Three other defendants, including the younger DePante; former HP attorney Kevin Hunsaker; and private detective Ronald DeLia; pleaded no contest to a count of fraudulent wire communications.

In the wake of the scandal, Congress held hearings on the matter and the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office launched investigations. HP also faced a formal inquiry from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as shareholder lawsuits.