Investigator pleads guilty in HP case

A private investigator involved in HP's scandal pleaded guilty to two charges in federal court

Private investigator Bryan Wagner pleaded guilty Friday to two charges in federal court in San Jose, California, and agreed to cooperate with federal officials investigating the Hewlett-Packard spying scandal.

At a 25-minute hearing in Federal District Court, Wagner pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity theft. Federal District Judge Jeremy Fogel accepted the plea agreement and set sentencing for June 20.

"Today, the US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has secured the first conviction in the Hewlett-Packard pretexting investigation," Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the office, told reporters after the hearing. "Mr. Wagner today admitted to using fraud and deceit by misrepresenting himself and collecting the personal telephone records of (individuals) without their knowledge or authorization."

Wagner has agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors who continue to investigate the scandal, Macaulay said. It erupted after HP conducted an investigation in 2005 and 2006 to identify who on the HP board was leaking news of board deliberations to the media. HP hired a Boston private investigative firm, Security Outsourcing Solutions, which in turn hired Action Research Group. Action Research, in turn, hired Wagner, 29, of Colorado, to procure the phone calling records of targets of the investigation, including reporters and their family members, HP board members and employees and their family members.

Wagner was given the Social Security numbers and other personal information about the targets and used it to pose as those people in obtaining their phone records, a practice called "pretexting," said Wagner's attorney, Stephen Nataril.

"He was your classic dupe," Nataril told reporters. "I think the private investigators who asked him to get this information knew that it wasn't legal and thought they'd pass the buck one or two more times down to somebody else and give them the brief assurance that 'Sure it's okay. We had our lawyers look at it, so go ahead and get that infomation.'"

Wagner still faces state felony charges in California. Also facing state charges are former HP board chairman Patricia Dunn, former HP legal counsel Kevin Hunsaker, Ronald R. DeLia, of Security Outsourcing Solutions and Matthew DePante, manager of Action Research Group. Dunn and Hunsaker were forced out of their HP posts because of the scandal.

Macaulay declined to say when further federal charges can be expected and against whom.

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