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Investigator Faces Charges in HP Spying Probe

A private investigator who had a role in HP's boardroom spying scandal was charged Wednesday with federal identity theft and conspiracy charges.

(San Francisco) A private investigator accused of posing as a journalist to access the reporter's private phone records as part of the boardroom spying scandal at Hewlett-Packard Co. was charged Wednesday with federal identity theft and conspiracy charges, prosecutors said. Several federal agencies and a congressional panel are investigating the scandal. The charges against Wagner represent the first federal actions taken against anyone implicated in the case.

Bryan Wagner is accused of using the Social Security number of the unidentified journalist to illegally gain access to the phone logs, according to the criminal charges filed in San Jose federal court by U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan's office.

Wagner is also accused of conspiring to illegally obtain and transmit personal information on HP directors, journalists and employees as part of the computer and printer maker's crusade to ferret out the source of boardroom leaks to the media.

A call to Wagner's defense lawyer, Stephen Naratil, was not immediately returned Wednesday. An HP spokesman declined to comment.

Wagner is one of five people who were criminally charged in California state court for their alleged roles in the ill-fated spying probe.

Former HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, former HP ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker, and three outside investigators -- Ronald DeLia, Matthew DePante and Wagner -- all have pleaded not guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court to four charges each of identity theft, fraud and conspiracy.

The alleged criminal behavior centers around a form of subterfuge known as "pretexting," or pretending to be someone else to trick telephone companies into giving up personal information on customers.

The federal charges accuse Wagner of obtaining a reporter's Social Security number from other unidentified co-conspirators, using that information to set up an online account with the telephone company in the reporter's name and accessing the detailed phone logs.

Luke Macaulay, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of California, declined to comment on whether any others implicated in the spying scandal would be charged.

Wagner faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted on the conspiracy charge, and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison if convicted of identity theft.

Wagner was not in custody Wednesday, and an initial court appearance had not yet been set.

Federal and state prosecutors allege that Wagner was at the bottom of a long chain of subcontractors hired to perform HP's investigation.

Dunn has acknowledged initiating the investigation but says she was unaware of the investigators' tactics. Hunsaker, who directed the investigation, left the company in September.

HP has remained largely unharmed on Wall Street by the scandal. Investors have cheered the company's strong operations under Chief Executive Mark Hurd and sent HP's stock price up nearly 18 percent since the investigation was disclosed in September.

However, the California attorney general's office sued HP in December, claiming the company engaged in unfair business practices, and HP agreed to pay $14.5 million (euro11 million) to settle the claim.

A congressional panel also has demanded that Hurd explain $1.37 million (euro1 million) worth of options he exercised just before the scandal became public. HP has said Hurd's transactions were vetted by company lawyers and were proper.

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