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State drops case against HP 'spy'

But federal case continues

A California judge yesterday dismissed state charges against a figure in the HP spying case because the defendant already pleaded guilty to similar federal charges in the case.

Judge Jerome Nadler approved the motion to dismiss four felony counts against Bryan Wagner at a brief hearing in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose.

Wagner was facing trial on charges related to his involvement in an investigation ordered by HP officials in 2005 and 2006 to have private detectives trace the source of boardroom leaks to the media. Wagner was an independent contractor hired by a company called Action Research Group to obtain calling records of people who were targets of the investigation. He allegedly used false pretences to trick phone companies into providing those records, a practice called pretexting.

Assistant state Attorney General Ralph Sivilla agreed to the dismissal sought by Wagner's attorney, Stephen Naratil, because California law prohibits a defendant from being charged for the same crime in state court for which they have been convicted in federal court.

Wagner pleaded guilty on 12 January to one count of conspiracy and one count of aggravated identity theft. He agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in exchange for consideration for leniency at sentencing on 20 June.

Wagner had been charged by the state with using false pretenses to obtain confidential information from a public utility, wrongful use of computer data, identity theft, and conspiracy. Those are the same charges still facing others implicated in the HP scandal: former HP chairman Patricia Dunn; former HP lawyer Kevin Hunsaker; Ron DeLia of the private investigation firm Security Outsourcing Solutions; and Matthew DePante of Action Research Group.

Sivilla, talking to reporters outside the courtroom yesterday, declined to comment on the status of plea negotiations with the other defendants. He wouldn't confirm reports that the defendants would not be charged with the state felonies if they each pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor.

The next court date in the state case is in late February, he said.

HP has been accused of pretexting in another case. Former HP executive Karl Kamb Jr, in a countersuit filed last week against HP, accused the company of spying on him and obtaining his phone records under false pretences. The countersuit, filed in a federal District Court in Texas, was in response to a suit HP filed against Kamb and three other ex-HP executives accusing them of conspiring to start a flat-panel TV business of their own while they were supposed to be developing the business for HP.

HP called the spying charges "wholly without merit" and the judge in the case ordered the file of Mr. Kamb's countersuit sealed 24 January.


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