SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Two former private investigators are facing sentencing on charges of allegedly using false identities to gain access to the phone records of Hewlett-Packard board members, employees and journalists.
Matthew DePante and his father, Joseph DePante, were to appear in U.S. District Court in San Jose Thursday, each to be sentenced to three years of probation and six months of electronic monitoring as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Both men plead guilty to conspiracy to commit Social Security fraud in February.
Federal prosecutors said the Silicon Valley tech giant had hired the DePantes' Florida-based investigation firm, Action Research Group, to track down who was leaking boardroom information to journalists starting in 2005.
The men conducted their probe during an 18-month period involving 33 people as their firm "garnered a significant profit as a result," prosecutors allege in sentencing documents.
"This pattern of serious offense conduct reveals a disregard for the privacy interests of the individuals that were the targets of ARG's investigations," the document said.
The DePantes' allegedly used the illegal practice of "pretexting" or pretending to be someone else to secretly secure copies of private telephone logs. The firm directed other investigators posing as account holders or phone company employees to illegally obtain personal information including phone numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates and call logs, authorities said.
The firm made between $20,000 and $30,000 for its inquiries, court documents said.
During the covert operation, prosecutors said that HP and private investigators obtained the confidential information of the company's board members and employees as well as reporters for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Cnet and these reporters' families.
"The Social Security Number was an essential piece of information required to obtain the subject's telephone record and other information...," court documents said. "The Social Security Number is, for many Americans, the closely-guarded key of all of their financial and personal records."
The case began when then-HP CEO Carly Fiorina and other directors began checking into leaks of board deliberations to reporters.
A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge in 2007 dismissed charges against then-HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn in connection with the case. The judge's decision came after the state attorney general's office reduced charges against several other defendants, including Matthew DePante.
"At worst, the conduct in this case amounted to boardroom politics and a betrayal of trust and honor, rather than criminal activity," the judge said, according to a transcript of his remarks supplied by the attorney general's office.
The judge said the investigation nevertheless "achieved much public good," including helping spur the passage of state and federal legislation specifically outlawing "pretexting."
In addition, the state reached a $14.5 million civil settlement with HP in December 2006, which was slated to fund state and local investigations into privacy rights and intellectual property violations.