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California offers former HP chairman plea deal

Dunn, four others charged with felonies in connection with Hewlett-Packard's spying scandal could plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

California's attorney general is offering former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn and four others charged in the HP spying scandal a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, a source said Thursday.

Stephen Naratil, an attorney for data broker Bryan Wagner who is one of the defendants in the case, told the Associated Press that the plea agreement tendered by state prosecutors would allow all five defendants to avoid four felony charges stemming from an investigation launched last year by HP to find the source of a news leak.

A source close to the case, who asked not to be named, confirmed Naratil's statement. Representatives for Dunn declined to comment.

Dunn, Wagner and three others were charged with identity theft, conspiracy, fraudulent wire communications and wrongful use of computer data. HP investigators obtained private phone records belonging to journalists and board members by duping employees of telephone companies, a process known as pretexting.

Robert Morgester, deputy attorney general, declined to comment.

It is unclear why state prosecutors would back off pressing the felony charges against the five defendants, but recently, California's case has come under pressure from federal authorities.

The U.S. Department of Justice last week cut a plea deal with Wagner, who agreed to testify against some of the other defendants in exchange for a lighter sentence. At the very least, this arrangement could complicate California's case against Wagner and possibly affect others, legal sources said.

Wagner's attorneys appeared in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, Calif., Wednesday to answer to the state charges and said they wanted the court to dismiss those against Wagner because of California's double-jeopardy laws. State penal code 656 states that a defendant can't be tried if he or she has already been tried for the same crime by another state or the federal government.