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Former HP chair clears court charges

In the shadow of HP's annual stockholders meeting, one former HP employee and two private eyes plead no contest to charges in the company's pretexting scandal — while former HP chair Patricia Dunn was exonerated.

Shareholders met on the same day former HP employee Kevin Hunsaker and private investigators Ronald DeLia and Matthew DePante entered no contest pleas to misdemeanor charges of fraudulent wire communications. Dunn, battling advanced ovarian cancer, saw her name cleared when charges against her were dropped by the California Attorney General's office.

Hunsaker, DeLia and DePante will serve 96 hours of community service each, according to an Associated Press story. But the quartet of HP execs and their hired PIs got a rude surprise earlier today when the AG's office said everyone would plead guilty. The AG's office corrected that notice — "a mistakenly predicted" press release — later in the day.

Hunsaker, DeLia and DePante also must "make restitution" for invading the privacy of HP employees, executives, reporters and family members of the press. The restitution will be based on requests made by the victims of the hoax. The tactics included HP-subcontracted investigators pretending to be phone company employees to gain access to phone records. Congressmen lambasted HP's probe methods and ethics in a 2006 hearing.

HP has admitted enough complicity in the scandal to pay a $14.5 million fine to the State of California, but the matter never escalated beyond state charges and the testimony before the US Congress.

Dunn's lawyer James Brosnahan said his client was vindicated by the decision to drop felony charges. The state prosecutor was charging HP's former board chair with four felony counts related to the "Kona" and "Kona II" investigations. Each charge carried a $10,000 maximum fine and three years in prison.

That effort was reduced so completely that the State of California will drop all charges against all defendants in September, when their community service requirement is completed.

The prosecution's star witness Bryan Wagner, who agreed to testify against HP's execs and the PIs in exchange for dropping the California charges, pled guilty to the four counts in federal court last fall. Federal prosecutors said they continue to pursue the investigation of HP's leak probe tactics.

Dunn stepped out of the chairman's seat and off the HP board altogether when the scandal surfaced.