Authorities have hinted they may file more charges in Hewlett-Packard Co’s ill-fated media-leak investigation, even after wrangling two of the technology company’s top insiders.
Ousted Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and former ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker surrendered, were booked and released Thursday, a day after being charged — along with three private investigators — with felonies for their roles in HP’s spying scandal.
At least one expert said the California Attorney General’s office might strike plea deals with the three investigators — Ronald DeLia, Matthew DePante and Bryan Wagner — to secure their testimony against Dunn and Hunsaker and gather evidence against any other HP insiders believed to have sanctioned their conduct.
“Their involvement is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Scott Christie, a former prosecutor who headed the computer hacking and intellectual property unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.
“Others knew about what they were doing, and approved of their conduct. There may be others charged and there may not be, but I would expect the AG will try to work his way up the ladder,” Christie added.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer said after filing the charges in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Wednesday that the investigation was not complete.
HP CEO Mark Hurd is not among those named in the criminal complaint, nor was HP’s former General Counsel Ann Baskins, who had some oversight over the probe.
Dunn appeared briefly in court Thursday, signing a promise to return to court on Nov. 17 for an arraignment. Afterward, she smiled and held hands with her husband before hopping in a chauffeur-driven sedan for the short trip to the county sheriff’s office for booking.
Hunsaker also was booked and released, and his arraignment was scheduled for Dec. 6, his legal team said.
DeLia and Wagner, both out of state, have made arrangement to surrender within a week, according to Lockyer’s office. Prosecutors said they had not yet been able to reach the lawyer for DePante. A call to that lawyer by The Associated Press on Thursday was not returned.
The five defendants each face four felony counts: use of false or fraudulent pretenses to obtain confidential information from a public utility; unauthorized access to computer data; identity theft; and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes. Each charge carries a fine of up to $10,000 and three years in prison.
HP’s investigation, which took place earlier this year and in 2005, erupted into a national scandal last month after HP disclosed that detectives it hired had obtained the private phone records of directors, employees and journalists in HP’s effort to ferret out the source of media leaks.
Using a shady tactic known as “pretexting,” the detectives obtained the Social Security numbers of their targets and fooled telephone companies into divulging their detailed call logs.
After Dunn’s court appearance, neither she nor an attorney representing her, S. Raj Chatterjee, would comment.
But in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” to be broadcast Sunday, Dunn defended the investigation of directors and members of the media.
“Investigations, by their nature, are intrusive,” Dunn said, according to excerpts released by the network Thursday. “If you think that Hewlett-Packard is the only company that has an investigations force — which by the way, is peopled mostly with former law enforcement officers that do all kinds of private detective work, monitoring, posing as other people in order to solve problems to protect shareholder value — you’re being naive.”
Hunsaker’s lead lawyer, Michael Pancer, reiterated Thursday that his client had been assured of the legality of the tactics and was fired from HP when he refused to resign.
“At no time did he — or would he — ever authorize or engage in any activity that he thought was illegal,” Pancer said in a statement.
The telephone rang unanswered Thursday morning at DePante’s office in Melbourne, Fla. No listed home number for him could be located. Wagner did not immediately return a call.
DeLia had previously asserted his innocence but has declined to elaborate or take questions.
After the charges were filed, HP issued a statement that it is cooperating with Lockyer as well as federal authorities who are also exploring possible criminal charges. The Palo Alto-based company declined further comment.
In all, the personal data of more than 24 people were compromised, including one instance in January when an investigator changed the password for a reporter’s cell phone and viewed her call log for nine minutes, according to the criminal complaint.
Dunn, who was infuriated by a leak about a private board retreat, ordered the investigation but said she didn’t know the detectives used such extreme measures. She resigned from the board last month.
Hunsaker oversaw the probe, and left the company on Sept. 26.
DeLia runs a Boston-area detective firm called Security Outsourcing Solutions, a longtime HP contractor commissioned to conduct the leak probe.
DeLia in turn hired DePante’s company to gather information, and Wagner was hired to obtain the private phone records. According to the complaint, Wagner acknowledged destroying the computer linking him to the HP probe “because it had incriminating evidence on it and he would not assist in locating it.”
Pretexting will become a criminal offense in California when a new law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes effect Jan. 1. Violators will be punished by $2,500 in fines and up to a year in jail, though the law will not retroactively apply to the HP investigation.