After months of uncertainty, former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn will walk out of a California courtroom free of all criminal charges.
On March 14, the same day her old company hosted its annual shareholders meeting, a California judge dismissed all criminal charges against Dunn. In addition, her three remaining co-defendants in the HP "pretexting" case will plead guilty to lesser charges and could avoid jail time altogether, according to the California Attorney Generals Office.
In a statement released through her attorney, Dunn expressed relief that the case, which started in September when reports of the companys use of pretexting to find information about board members and the reporters they spoke to came to light, had finally come to an end.
"I am pleased that this matter has been resolved fairly, and want to express my deep gratitude to my husband and family, who never lost faith in me throughout this ordeal," Dunn said in her statement.
"I have been strengthened by wonderful support during this difficult time—both from my dear friends and from people I have never met. I have always had faith that the truth would win out and justice would be served—and it has been."
Dunn and four others were each charged by the California prosecutors with fraudulent wire communications, wrongful use of a computer, identity theft and conspiracy on Oct. 4. Each count carried a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Even before the charges were filed, Dunn spent weeks under a cloud until she resigned from the Palo Alto, Calif., companys board of directors Sept. 12. A few weeks later, Mark Hurd, the companys president and CEO, took over as the board chairman.
The charges that would eventually shake up one of the worlds largest and most respected IT companies actually started in 2005, when HP began to look into news leaks. Later, in 2006, Dunn revived the investigation to find the source of additional leaks.
At the heart of the criminal case was the use of pretexting. HPs investigators reportedly employed this controversial method, which involved using the Social Security numbers and other personal information of board members and reporters to trick telephone companies into giving them private telephone records.
Investigators also reportedly followed directors, journalists and family members, and at one point considered planting spies in newsrooms.
Eventually, the companys use of these methods was disclosed in a public filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. That filing would begin the criminal investigation of the company and Dunn.
"We have maintained from the beginning that Pattie Dunn was innocent and thus vigorously fought the charges against her," said James Brosnahan, one of Dunns attorneys, in a statement. "Today, the judge dismissed the case. Ms. Dunn did not plead to anything. This is the right result."
On March 13, an HP spokesperson said the company had no comment about the case.
The other co-defendants in the case included: Kevin Hunsaker, a former HP lawyer and ethics officer; Ron DeLia, managing director of Boston-based Security Outsourcing Solutions, an outside firm brought in by HP to conduct the investigation; Matthew DePante, manager of information broker Action Research Group, in Melbourne, Fla.; and Bryan Wagner, an ARG employee.
Wagner pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in January.
On March 14, prosecutors announced that Hunsaker, DeLia and DePante would plead no contest to a single misdemeanor charge of fraudulent wire communications. In order to avoid jail time, the three men will have to complete 96 hours of community service and pay restitution. Once that is complete, California authorities will move to dismiss the criminal cases against each of them.
A spokesperson for the California Attorney Generals Office said that additional federal charges against the three men are still possible. "The guilty pleas offered today will not prevent federal prosecutors [U.S. Attorney] from filing criminal charges against Hunsaker, DeLia or DePante—if they so choose," the spokesperson said.
The case against all five defendants was held in Santa Clara, Calif.
In addition to the criminal case, HP settled a civil case with the California Attorney Generals Office, and agreed to pay $14.5 million in fines. The company did not have to admit any liability.