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HP pretexting affair ends with jail time for last player

'Concludes not with a bang but with a whimper'

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The HP pretexting scandal has finally ended, with the last person involved getting three months in prison for illegally accessing the phone records of journalists.

Colorado private investigator Bryan Wagner convinced phone companies to hand over the telephone records of HP's management and the journalists who spoke to them as part of an attempt by then-chairwoman Patricia Dunn to find out who was leaking corporate information to members of the fourth estate.

They might have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for former HP director Tom Perkins, who was so outraged by the practice that he resigned from the board. When HP refused to say why he had stepped down, Perkins went public with his reasons, triggering a full investigation.

As an interesting side-note, Perkins went on to join the board of News International in 2007. He still holds his position, despite the corporation's own troubles with illegal access to phone records. It seems some crimes are more egregious than others, to his mind.

Wagner pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and aggravated identify theft back in 2007, and agreed to work with investigators on the case. Despite this, he is the only member of the pretexting team who will actually face time in the Big House over the affair.

Joseph and Mathew DePante, who hired Wagner to do the dirty work on the case, worked out a plea deal of their own and got three years of probation for their part in the affair. HP's former chief ethics officer Kevin Hunsaker and two other investigators got 96 hours of community service.

Former HP chairwoman Dunn, who initiated the entire process, successfully convinced investigators that she had no idea that illegal methods would be used to procure the phone records of those involved, although she did have to resign her position as the scandal grew. She was replaced by Mark Hurd, who managed to come out of the whole affair smelling of roses.

In the end, HP paid a $14.5m fine over the affair, as well as settling private cases with the nine journalists who had their phone records filched.

In Wagner's case, assistant US attorney Michelle Kane said that the investigator's cooperation had been noted and therefore the state had only asked for a six-month sentence, rather than the maximum two years he could have been liable for.

As Wagner was unable to afford his own attorney, a public defender, Cynthia Lie, handled his defense. She argued that he had been a "very low-level worker in a very elaborate chain," according to the San Jose Mercury News.

She finished her defense saying, "This case concludes not with a bang but with a whimper." ®

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