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SAN FRANCISCO — Federal prosecutors who charged a low-level private investigator for his alleged role in Hewlett-Packard Co.’s boardroom spying scandal are not likely to stop there, as suspicions swirl that the trail of impropriety led all the way to some of the company’s top offices. Bryan Wagner, who faces federal identity theft and conspiracy charges, is accused of posing as a journalist to access the reporter’s private phone records as part of the computer and printer maker’s ill-fated attempt to ferret out the source of boardroom leaks to the media. The way Wagner was charged Wednesday � he agreed to waive grand jury proceedings � suggests he’s likely cooperating with investigators aiming for more high-profile targets, said Matthew Jacobs, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco who is now in private practice. “The government likes to start at the lowest point in the chain of responsibility and flip people,” Jacobs said. “What it signals is that the government is trying to build the case against those more senior.” Wagner is one of five people who already have been criminally charged in California state court in connection with the spying probe at Palo Alto-based HP, the world’s largest technology company. Former HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn has acknowledged initiating the investigation but says she was unaware of the investigators’ tactics. Former HP ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker, who directed the investigation, left the company in September. HP contracted the leak probe work out to Ronald DeLia, who runs a Boston-area detective firm called Security Outsourcing Solutions. DeLia in turn hired Matthew DePante’s company to gather information, and DePante hired Wagner to obtain the private phone records of HP directors and journalists. All have pleaded not guilty in Santa Clara County Superior Court to four charges each of identity theft, fraud and conspiracy. The alleged criminal behavior centers around a form of subterfuge known as “pretexting,” or pretending to be someone else to trick telephone companies into coughing up personal information on customers. The federal charges accuse Wagner of obtaining a reporter’s Social Security number from other unidentified co-conspirators, using that information to set up an online account with the telephone company in the reporter’s name and accessing the detailed phone logs. Wagner is also accused of conspiring to illegally obtain and transmit personal information on HP directors, journalists and employees, according to the criminal charges filed in San Jose federal court by U.S. Attorney Kevin V. Ryan’s office. A call to Wagner’s defense lawyer, Stephen Naratil, was not immediately returned Wednesday. An HP spokesman declined to comment. Wagner, of Littleton, Colo., faces up to 5 years in prison if he’s convicted on the conspiracy charge, and a mandatory minimum of 2 years in prison if convicted of identity theft. Wagner was not in custody Wednesday and an initial court appearance had not yet been set, according to U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Luke Macaulay. He added that the investigation was ongoing but declined to comment on whether any others implicated in the spying scandal would be charged. HP has remained largely unharmed on Wall Street by the scandal, as investors have cheered the company’s strong operations under CEO Mark Hurd and sent HP’s stock price up nearly 18 percent since the investigation was disclosed in September. However, the California attorney general’s office sued HP in December claiming the company engaged in unfair business practices, and HP simultaneously agreed to pay $14.5 million to settle the claim. A congressional panel also has demanded that Hurd explain $1.37 million worth of options he exercised just before the scandal became public. HP has said that Hurd’s transactions were vetted by company lawyers and were proper.

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