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Calif. AG files felony charges in HP probe

Attorney general calls former Chairman Patricia Dunn 'catalyst' for HP leak hunt and say others could be charged. Photos: Charges filed

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--California's attorney general filed felony criminal charges on Wednesday against former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn and four others in connection with the company's internal probe into boardroom leaks to the news media.

"One of our state's most venerable corporate institutions lost its way as its board sought to find out who leaked confidential company information to the press," Attorney General Bill Lockyer said during an afternoon press conference here. "In this misguided effort, people inside and outside HP violated privacy rights and broke state law."

The others charged were Kevin T. Hunsaker, HP's former senior lawyer; Ronald DeLia, a private detective; Matthew DePante, 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.

Despite earlier reports, Matthew DePante, 27, was charged by Lockyer's office and not Joseph DePante, his father and the owner of Action Research. Up until now, the elder DePante has been the only one in his family linked to the HP case.

The five face four felony charges: fraudulent wire communications, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft, and conspiracy to commit those three crimes. (Click here for PDF of filing or here for PDF of supporting documentation.)

During the press conference, Lockyer and his aides singled out Dunn for fueling HP's leak probe. She and Hunsaker are expected to surrender to authorities sometime Wednesday evening, said Bob Anderson, chief deputy attorney for legal affairs, who did most of the speaking at the press conference.

"Patricia Dunn in our view was the catalyst for the (HP) investigation," Anderson said.

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Video: California attorney general speaks
At a press conference in Sacramento, Calif., Bill Lockyer announces criminal charges against former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn and four others.

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Video: California AG: HP 'lost its way'
Bill Lockyer says protecting privacy is crucial

Dunn, who has hired a prominent crisis management firm to handle her personal public relations, told a U.S. congressional subcommittee last week that she was never aware that illegal methods may have been used during her company's leak probe. Her public-relations firm issued a statement from Jim Brosnahan, Dunn's attorney, following Lockyer's press conference.

"These charges are being brought against the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons," Brosnahan said. "They are the culmination of a well-financed and highly orchestrated disinformation campaign."

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.

Asked whether the attorney general had effectively cleared HP CEO Mark Hurd, who has acknowledged being informed of many of the methods used in HP's investigation, Anderson said: "It would be premature to say anyone is cleared...the investigation continues."

Anderson said that each of the four charges could bring a maximum jail sentence of three years. Some legal experts have speculated that there are no clearly defined laws against pretexting, the practice of obtaining information through false pretenses. Anderson downplayed any question as to its illegality.

"I don't believe there is any ambiguity whatsoever," he said.

Lockyer press conference

Because DeLia, Wagner and Matthew DePante reside out of state, Lockyer will seek to extradite the three unless they waive extradition, Anderson said. He added that former HP general counsel Ann Baskins is cooperating with California's investigation into the leak hunt.

The complaint filed by Lockyer in Santa Clara County Superior Court alleges that the defendants used "false and fraudulent pretenses" to dupe phone company employees out of confidential information, including billing records, belonging to 12 people. Among those people were HP board members and nine journalists, including three from CNET, and some of their family members.

As for the count of identity theft, Lockyer alleges that Dunn and the others accused obtained personal identifying information, including names, phone numbers and Social Security numbers, of 13 people.

"The defendants then used that information for an unlawful purpose," the complaint said.

Dunn and Hunsaker knew that the investigators hired by the company had obtained phone records through false pretenses, the complaint alleges, and then "facilitated use of the illegal means" to obtain phone records.

The complaint claims that Dunn provided DeLia, who did investigative work for HP for eight years, with home, cell and office phone numbers of HP board members in April 2005. Two months later, DeLia informed Dunn and Baskins that "telephone records were obtained by ruse," the complaint said.

Dunn, who resigned last month as chairman, was regularly updated on the investigators' progress, according to the complaint.

DeLia hired Action Research, operated by Joseph DePante, to obtain the phone records knowing that the company obtains information through false pretenses, according to the complaint. Wagner was employed by DePante and performed the actual work of obtaining the phone records through pretexting, the declaration alleges.

California has requested bail for three out-of-state defendants; $50,000 for DeLia and Wagner and $100,000 for Matthew DePante. Anderson did not specify why DePante's bail amount was higher.