HP Pretexting Case Investigator Sentenced to Prison

Bryan Wagner, a private investigator who helped steal telephone records for an internal investigation into media leaks by Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) board members, was sentenced to three months in prison.

Wagner was sentenced yesterday, according to a statement today from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco. The owner of the company retained by Hewlett-Packard for the probe that had hired Wagner and the son of the owner were sentenced in July to three years probation, according to the statement.

Wagner pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. He admitted to using the Social Security number of an unidentified journalist to obtain the reporter’s telephone records to pursue the source of the leak, a practice called pretexting.

Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn was fired in 2006 for approving the boardroom spying, which spurred a national debate over identity theft. Hewlett-Packard contracted with Action Research Group in Florida. Action Research hired Wagner of Littleton, Colorado, who posed as the targets of the investigation to obtain their phone records.

The probe of Hewlett-Packard and its investigators moved Congress and the California Legislature to pass laws prohibiting the release of phone records without consent. Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, California, in 2008 settled with reporters over claims their privacy was invaded by the company’s investigation.

Cynthia Chin Young Lie, a federal public defender who represented Wagner, didn’t immediately return a call to her office for comment on the sentence.

The case is U.S. v. Wagner, 07-00016, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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