Ousted Hewlett-Packard (HP) Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, a former company lawyer and three outside investigators were charged Wednesday in California with committing felonies when they conducted an investigation to track down news leaks from the HP board.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office said charges have also been filed against Kevin Hunsaker, a former senior lawyer at HP; Ronald L. DeLia, a Boston-area private detective; Matthew DePante, manager of Action Research Group, a Melbourne, Fla., information broker; and Bryan Wagner, a Littleton, Colo., man who is said to have obtained private phone records while working for Action Research. The charges were announced at a press conference held Wednesday at the California Department of Justice.
The charges include using false or fraudulent pretenses to obtain confidential information from a public utility, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes. All of the charges are felonies.
“One of our state’s most venerable corporate institutions lost its way as its board sought to find out who leaked confidential information to the press,” Lockyer said in a statement. “In this misguided effort, people inside and outside of HP violated privacy rights and broke state law.”
Lockyer’s office has been investigating the spying allegations because HP is based in Palo Alto, Calif. The charges were filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco and the FBI have been conducting separate investigations of HP.
In a statement released after the filing, Dunn’s attorney, James Brosnahan, said his client will fight the charges.
“These charges are being brought against the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. They are the culmination of a well-financed and highly orchestrated disinformation campaign,” Brosnahan said. He did not elaborate on his charge of a disinformation campaign.
“As her many supporters fully expect, she will fight these charges with everything she has,” he said.
In a statement released Wednesday in advance of the Sacramento press conference, HP said it was continuing to cooperate with state and federal investigators.
The private investigators hired by HP allegedly used “pretexting,” pretending to be someone they are not, to obtain the telephone records of HP directors, other employees and journalists who cover the company in an attempt to find out who from the board provided information to the reporters.
The scandal has attracted the attention of the U.S. Congress. On Sept. 28, Dunn told the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that she believed employees and lawyers who said that the HP’s leak investigation complied with the company’s standards of conduct.
The subcommittee was holding hearings into the use of pretexting. The committee passed a federal ban on pretexting, but Congress adjourned before the full House or the Senate voted on the legislation.
When questions about the techniques used to track down the leaks arose in the latter part of the investigation, Dunn said, she passed concerns to company Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd. Before then, the company’s lawyers had assured her the techniques were being done “legally and properly,” she said.
“At no time in the investigation did I authorize its methods,” Dunn said. “I asked this to be done in the HP standard way.”
On his part, Hurd told the subcommittee that he was not aware of the details of the techniques being used. He said he did not read a report from the investigating team that detailed the use of pretexting.
Ann Baskins, who resigned right before the subcommittee hearing as HP’s senior vice president and general counsel, and Hunsaker both asserted their rights not to testify under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution during the hearing.
Also taking the Fifth before the subcommittee were Delia, Wagner and Action Research owner Joe DePante.
Dunn faces these criminal charges at a difficult time in her personal life. She is scheduled to begin chemotherapy Friday for a recurrence of advanced ovarian cancer, according to a Wednesday report in the San Jose Mercury News. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004 and had been treated for breast cancer and melanoma dating back to 2001, the paper reported.
Keep checking in at our HP Spying Scandal page for more CIO.com coverage of this unfolding story.