The California attorney general has offered to drop felony charges against the four remaining defendants charged in the Hewlett-Packard spying case if they plead guilty to one misdemeanour each, according to published reports.
The San Jose Mercury News quoted anonymous sources familiar with the case, while the Associated Press quoted Stephen Naratil, the attorney for private investigator Bryan Wagner, who pleaded guilty on Jan. 12 in exchange for an agreement to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating the case. He faces sentencing June 20 on one count of conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity theft. Wagner is the only defendant who has so far been charged in federal court.
Authorities began investigating HP last year after the company revealed it hired private detective agencies to trace the source of leaks from HP's board to reporters. The private detectives allegedly used a tactic called pretexting to gain unauthorized access to telephone records of targets of the HP investigation.
A spokesman for the attorney representing former HP Chairman Patricia Dunn declined to comment on the published reports. Attorneys for former HP attorney Kevin Hunsaker, could not be reached for comment, but in the past they have indicated no interest in accepting a plea agreement.
The four remaining defendants are charged with fraudulent wire communications, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft, and conspiracy. Besides Dunn and Hunsaker, Ronald DeLia of Security Outsourcing Solutions in Boston, and Matthew DePante, manager of Action Research Group, in Melbourne, Florida, face state charges.
In federal court last Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Krotoski said that DePante hired Wagner, of Littleton, Colorado, and directed him to use pretexting to get phone records.
HP reached an agreement Dec. 8, 2006, with the office of then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer to settle potential civil charges in the case. HP agreed to pay US$14.5 million, which will go into a state law enforcement fund to investigate cases of corporate privacy violations. Lockyer was elected state treasurer in the November election and former California Governor and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown was elected attorney general.