SAN JOSE -- Six years after a spying scandal rocked Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), the boardroom caper came to a quiet close in a federal courtroom Thursday when a former private investigator was sentenced to three months in prison for his role in the pretexting scheme.

U.S. District Judge D. Lowell Jensen imposed the sentence on Bryan Wagner, a Colorado investigator and the last person linked to a scandal that prompted congressional hearings and two criminal investigations that reached the top of HP's corporate ladder. Wagner was a low-level investigator who took part in pretending to be a journalist to illegally obtain telephone records, a practice known as pretexting.

Wagner was originally one of at least five people publicly identified as carrying out an HP executive plot to put a stop to corporate boardroom leaks, led by late HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn. State prosecutors also brought a criminal case against Dunn, Wagner and others, but the case was dropped and HP settled by paying a $14.5 million fine.

Court records and comments in court indicate that Wagner has been cooperating with federal investigators since pleading guilty to conspiracy and aggravated identify theft in 2007. Wagner may have played a role in the prosecution of the two investigators who hired him for the HP job, Joseph DePante and his son, Mathew: They were sentenced in July to three years of probation in connection with the scheme.


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As a result of the cooperation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Kane recommended a sentence of six months in prison for Wagner, well below the two years he would ordinarily face for the aggravated identity theft conviction.

Before Jensen imposed the sentence, Wagner apologized for his "moral ineptness."

"I made mistakes and I apologize for those," he told the judge.

Wagner, out of money, was represented in the case by a federal public defender, Cynthia Lie. She urged Jensen to sentence Wagner to no more than the DePantes, describing him as "very low-level worker in a very elaborate chain."

"This case," Lie told Jensen, "concludes not with a bang but with a whimper."

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236; follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz.