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Data broker in HP 'pretext' case pleads guilty

The U.S. Attorney's office on Friday won the first conviction in the Hewlett Packard spying case.

Bryan Wagner, a data broker hired last year to help HP discover the source of a news leak, has pled guilty to federal identity theft and conspiracy charges, according to a statement released by the U.S Attorney's office.

Wagner, 29, admitted during a hearing in federal court that he "used fraud and deceit" to obtain personal phone records of journalists, including three from CNET, as well as members of HP's board.

"Wagner admitted today that he was paid as part of a conspiracy," the U.S. attorney's office said in the statement. Wagner "made fraudulent use of social security numbers and other confidential information."

The maximum sentence that Wagner could receive is a five-year prison term and a $250,000 fine. Sources told on Thursday that Wagner entered his plea on the condition that his cooperation would bring a lighter sentence.

Wagner is one of five people, including Patricia Dunn, the former chairman of HP, charged in California with four felonies, including conspiracy and identity theft. In an attempt to discover which member of HP's board of directors was leaking information to the media last year, the company's investigators allegedly duped phone company employees into handing over private records of accounts belonging to journalists, HP employees and board members. The practice is called pretexting.

The U.S. government has held back filing charges as California pursued its case. That changed on Wednesday when federal officials went after Wagner. This has cast a shadow over California's efforts to try the group. The state has statutes that prevent people from being tried twice for the same crime.

Some legal experts predict that the federal efforts won't impede California's case.

As part of Wagner's plea deal, he has agreed to testify about his work for the detective agency, Action Research Group, which hired him to obtain the phone records, according to a source close to Wagner.

Matthew DePante, whose family operates Action Research, is one of the five defendants in California.