California announced indictments on Wednesday against Hewlett-Packard Co's ousted chairwoman Patricia Dunn and former ethics lawyer Kevin Hunsaker for their roles in a snowballing boardroom espionage scandal.
"In this misguided effort, people inside and outside HP violated privacy rights and broke state law. Those who cross the legal line must be held accountable," Attorney General Bill Lockyer told reporters.
Three private detectives involved in the US computer equipment company's alleged spying operations were also indicted, Lockyer said.
Dunn and Hunsaker were indicted along with Ronald DeLia, Matthew Depante and Bryan Wagner, Lockyer said at a press conference in the state capital of Sacramento.
"One of our state's most venerable corporate institutions lost its way," Lockyer said.
Investigators brought in by Dunn, Hunsaker and other HP executives obtained the telephone records of nine journalists, two HP workers, and seven current or former board members, along with their families, in a trick of impersonation referred to as "pretexting."
DeLia had explained to Dunn last year that "telephone records were obtained by ruse" from carriers, according to the indictment.
Dunn provided DeLia with home or mobile telephone numbers for HP board members included in a fruitless first phase of a private probe into who was leaking boardroom secrets, court paperwork charged.
With the backing of the board, Dunn launched a second phase of the investigation in January.
Despite knowing of "the subterfuge," Hunsaker gave investigators home, mobile and office telephone numbers for HP executives and board members, the indictment said.
DeLia hired subcontractors to trick telephone companies into revealing people's personal telephone records, according to Lockyer.
An identity theft count in the indictment charged Dunn and the others with illegally getting personal information such as social security and telephone numbers of HP board members, journalists and their family members.
Dunn's lawyer Jim Brosnahan on Wednesday branded the charges "the culmination of a well-financed and highly orchestrated disinformation campaign" against her and said she would "fight these charges with everything she has."
The international computing equipment company declined to discuss the criminal charges and said it was continuing to cooperate with the investigation.
Dunn and Hunsaker resigned last month amid a growing controversy about unethical and potentially illegal tactics used to expose a board member that had been leaking secrets to news reporters.
Dunn was among HP executives grilled by incredulous members of Congress at a subcommittee hearing in Washington last week. Dunn repeatedly denied endorsing any wrongdoing.
Hunsaker was one of 10 former HP executives and outside private detectives who declined to testify before the subcommittee. They shielded themselves behind the constitutional right not to incriminate oneself.
In her statement to the House panel, Dunn contended that she had been assured by company lawyers and security veterans that all the tactics were "above board."
Representative John Dingell invoked the Watergate scandal in describing the subterfuge at HP as "a plumbing operation that would make Richard Nixon blush."
As the corporate intrigue grew to include criminal prosecutions, Dunn was reportedly scheduled to begin treatment for ovarian cancer.