Five years after tech giant Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) found itself at the center of a headline-grabbing pretexting scandal, DailyFinance has learned that federal authorities have expanded the scope of their prosecution to include other potential defendants.
In 2006, HP publicly disclosed that the company had deceptively obtained personal phone records through pretexting in an effort to find the source of a board-level corporate leak to the media. Pretexting -- a federal offense -- is the act of posing as a phone customer, or someone else, in order to request a customer's private, personal phone records. In HP's case, the scandal eventually forced high-profile resignations and led to millions of dollars in fines and lengthy legal battles.
Bryan Wagner, a contractor hired by HP's investigators, used pretexting to spy on HP board members and a handful of journalists, with the aim of uncovering the source of that media leak. He pleaded guilty to federal identity theft and conspiracy charges in 2007 after the state of California decided to drop its case against him, and was scheduled for sentencing Aug. 25 -- until it was postponed.
On Aug. 26, DailyFinance obtained a Department of Justice notice sent to an HP pretexting victim, who wanted to remain anonymous, regarding case No. 2006R00977. It reads:
The United States Department of Justice believes it is important to keep victims of federal crimes informed of court proceedings. This notice provides information about the above-referenced criminal case.
The sentencing did not take place on August 25, 2011. There are other defendants involved in a related matter; therefore, Bryan Wagner will not be sentenced until the outcome of the other defendants is determined.
We are expecting a sentencing date, for Bryan Wagner, to take place either 11/10/11 or 11/17/11.
Wagner, of late, was thought to be the only individual who would face federal charges in the case. Early on, however, he was hardly the sole target of the probe. In 2006, it was discovered that the chairwoman of HP at the time, Patricia Dunn, had ordered an investigation to uncover the sources of high-level leaks to reporters. But she vehemently denied knowing what tactics were being used in that effort, and claimed to have no knowledge about the pretexting.
Under further scrutiny, Dunn resigned because of the "distraction her presence" on the board presented to the company. Fraud charges were eventually filed against Dunn and other individuals by the California Attorney General's office, but these were later dropped. In a written statement following the dismissal of the charges against her, Dunn said: "I have always had faith that the truth would win out and justice would be served -- and it has been." California offered to drop charges against other co-defendants under two conditions, including community service.
However, there was always the possibility that federal charges could be filed against any of the former defendants, or others, if new evidence was obtained. The new details in the victim notification email raise questions about who's involved in the "related matter" and how it all ties to Wagner and pretexting. A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment for this story as it relates to an ongoing case.
These latest developments come at a time when the media, namely News Corp. (NWS), has been under fire for pretexting in the News of the World scandal. The HP case, however, was the impetus that lit a fire under Congress in 2007 to pass a law against the pretexting of phone records.
Get info on stocks mentioned in this article: