The HP Saga: Watching the Detectives

16 Sep ’06

The NY Times’ Damon Darlin and Matt Richtel are on the HP case. Late yesterday brought a new article, brimming with new detail, as they investigate the investigation into the investigators. First, a suggestion that investigators have now dug deeper than Security Outsourcing Solutions, the first and only investigator identified so far:

According to people briefed on Hewlett-Packard’s review of its internal investigation, prosecutors are focusing on the role of the Action Research Group of Melbourne, Fla. Congressional investigators identified the company this year as one of the most prolific users of subterfuge for obtaining phone records, a method known as pretexting.

Second, fresh spade work on the connection between HP and Security Outsourcing Solutions, the principal of which is Ronald DeLia, one of the souls lucky enough to be invited to assist the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations with its inquiries. Someone’s obviously been looking at family photos:

Anthony R. Gentilucci, manager of global investigations for H.P., is president of the New England chapter of the High-Tech Crime Investigation Association, an organization of law enforcement officials, private detectives and corporate security officers. Two of the five other elected officers, Glenn Tandy and Kevin Mazza, also work for H.P.’s security arm, and Mr. DeLia has been a member of the association.

John J. McLean, a police detective in Medford, Mass., and the second vice president of the association, said Mr. DeLia attended meetings and had “an impeccable reputation.” He said Mr. DeLia and Mr. Gentilucci knew each other, “but how close they were, I don’t know.”

Mr. DeLia did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages requesting comment, and Mr. Gentilucci’s office referred all inquiries to Hewlett-Packard’s headquarters.

The links between the men were personal. Mr. Gentilucci and Mr. DeLia were fellow groomsmen in a 1997 wedding in Boston, according to a wedding announcement in The Boston Herald. One of the two best men in the wedding was John Kiernan, a partner in the law firm of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, which shares a Boston address and phone number with Security Outsourcing Solutions.

I’ve been thinking for a while that this case needed more lawyers. And I’m sure Messrs. Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata are delighted that in the future they will likely appear on the first page of every Google search for “pretexting”.

Darlin and Richtel also report that there are new invitations expected to the Subcommittee’s hearings: “The subcommittee is expected to put Mr. Gentilucci on its witness list as well, a committee staff member said.”

Next, the dirt on Action Research:

The same panel, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, held hearings this year on the use of fraud in obtaining phone records. The panel’s subsequent inquiries identified Action Research, the Florida firm, as “the biggest of the big” among companies using pretexts to obtain phone numbers, said Rob Douglas, an information security consultant who worked for the subcommittee. The company, he said, “is in the inner core” of pretexters.

Mr. Douglas said Action Research takes orders for phone records from hundreds, if not thousands, of private detective agencies, though it sometimes also works for lawyers and other clients. He said Action Research could receive as many as hundreds of orders a day for phone records and other confidential consumer data, charging perhaps $75 to $125 per request.

I’m thinking this means that whoever hired them knew exactly why.

Last, the spotlight turns back to HP’s General Counsel, Ann Baskins:

One question investigators have been asking is who at Hewlett-Packard was involved in hiring and supervising the investigators. That is one reason Ms. Baskins, H.P.’s general counsel, has been called by Congressional investigators.

In a June 19 e-mail message to Mr. Sonsini, the outside lawyer, Thomas J. Perkins, a director who resigned in May in a dispute over the investigation, raised the question of the legality of obtaining private phone records without a subpoena. Mr. Sonsini responded that Ms. Baskins had “looked into the legality of every step of the inquiry and was satisfied that it was conducted properly.”

Ms. Baskins, 51, has spent all but one year of her 26-year legal career at H.P. She was promoted to general counsel by Carleton S. Fiorina, the former chairwoman and chief executive.

I have a sense we’ll be hearing much more about the unhappy Ms. Baskins in the very near future.

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