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FTC settles with HP investigators

Agency agrees to $600,000 in fines against private detectives in spy case.

May 29, 2008|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that it agreed to $600,000 in settlements and judgments against several private investigators involved in the Hewlett-Packard Co. boardroom spying case.

The FTC last year filed a complaint against those investigators for allegedly obtaining consumers' private phone records without their knowledge and consent and selling them to third parties.

Palo Alto-based HP hired the investigators in 2005 to secretly examine the private telephone logs of journalists, board members and HP employees to identify the source of leaks to the media. The company admitted to the scheme in September 2006.

The FTC settlement imposed a $67,000 penalty against Matthew DePante; his father, Joseph DePante; and their now-defunct company, Action Research Group Inc., which was based in Clearwater, Fla. All but $3,000 was suspended because of their inability to pay.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando division, also entered default judgments against DePante's subcontractors, Bryan Wagner, who must pay $428,085, and Cassandra Selvage and her company, Eye in the Sky Investigations Inc. She must pay $110,762.

Action Research Group relied on Selvage and Wagner to get the records through pretexting, or "using false pretenses, fraudulent statements, fraudulent or stolen documents or other misrepresentations, including posing as an account holder or as an employee of a phone company," the FTC said.

Selvage and Wagner were two of five private investigators believed to have acted as "pretexters" in the HP scandal.

The agency said Action Research Group sold the confidential phone records, including lists of calls made and the dates, times and duration of the calls, since at least 2005.

The DePantes' attorneys, Richard Preira and Susy Ribero-Ayala, said both father and son maintained their innocence but agreed to pay the $3,000 to settle the case.

State criminal charges were dismissed against Matthew DePante. Preira said the DePantes had gone on to other careers.

Selvage and Wagner could not be reached for comment.

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