January 18, 2007 11:25 pm

Former HP execs offered plea deals

California prosecutors have offered plea deals to Patricia Dunn, Hewlett-Packard’s former chairman, and four others charged with felony counts of conspiracy and identity theft in connection with the computer company’s boardroom spying scandal.

The deals would allow Ms Dunn and the other co-defendants to avoid going to trial on felony charges by pleading guilty to a less serious misdemeanour charge, according to two people with knowledge of the case.

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The plea offers came days after Bryan Wagner, a former HP subcontractor, admitted to fraudulently obtaining the telephone records of journalists in a federal guilty plea.

An attorney for Ms Dunn, who has vowed to fight the charges against her, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Michael Pancer, an attorney representing Kevin Hunsaker, HP’s former ethics chief, who has also been charged in the case, said his client was not interested in any plea deal.

“Kevin has broken no laws. As a result, we are not interested in any plea bargaining and we haven’t been doing any plea bargaining with the attorney general’s office,” he said. Mr Pancer declined to comment on the terms of the attorney general’s offer.

A spokesman for Jerry Brown, California attorney general, also declined to comment, saying “we don’t discuss plea bargains”.

Revelations that HP operatives used false pretences to obtain telephone records of HP board members, journalists and their families to pinpoint the source of a boardroom leak sparked public outrage last year.

The scandal spiralled after HP admitted that its private investigators also engaged in physical surveillance, an e-mail “sting” operation and other dirty tricks.

Bill Lockyer, the former California attorney general, charged Ms Dunn, Mr Hunsaker and three other defendants in October in connection with the case. All five pleaded not guilty. Mr Wagner is the only defendant to have been hit with federal charges.

In testimony before Congress in September, Ms Dunn expressed regret over the out-of-control investigation but said she bore no personal responsibility for what happened. Although she acknowledged that she had been concerned about some of the tactics used in the investigation, she insisted that she had received repeated assurances that investigators methods were above board.

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