HOUSTON (CN) – Two men claim Hewlett-Packed put them through a 6-year “Kafkaesque nightmare” by having them indicted on false charges of felony organized crime – accused of hacking into the HP website and reducing prices for computers and then buying them. But the men say it all stemmed from errors in an HP software program, which the lead plaintiff reported to HP himself.
In their complaint in Harris County court, Ofuoma Odje and Bertrand Lancksweert say that after multiple indictments they went to trial and were found not guilty.
“To their horror, they were then re-indicted on essentially the same charges, and had to defend themselves on those false claims until the district attorney agreed finally to dismiss all charges with prejudice,” according to the complaint.
For Odje the trouble started in April 2003, when, he says, he received a “specific invitation” from HP to register with its site to be eligible for special offers.
“Odje discovered that, in fact, HP was advertising on its site various laptop computers and related equipment at significant discounts, and he availed himself of the bargains which HP had led him to believe were available for online purchases,” according to the complaint.
It continues: “After his initial purchases from HP, Odje became concerned that the prices advertised by HP for the products he had bought online were so low that they must have been posted by mistake by HP. He called HP’s customer service and explained his concerns to an HP representative. The HP representative thanked Odje for contacting the company and told him there was no problem with HP’s website pricing.”
Odje says that HP did not cancel his orders or ask him to return the products.
He adds that HP did not abide by a disclaimer on its website that states: “If you place an order for a product that was incorrectly priced we will cancel your order and credit you for any charges.
“In the event we inadvertently ship an order based on a pricing error, we will issue a revised invoice to you for the correct price and contact you to obtain your authorization for the additional charge, or assist you with the return of the product.”
Lancksweert claims that he too bought HP products “from its website at substantial discounts,” in May 2003.
Rather than contact its customers, the men say, HP called in the law. Odje claims a detective showed up at his workplace and told his boss that Odje had hacked into HP’s website. The detective told Odje that HP had initiated criminal proceedings against him.
When Lancksweert learned that HP filed charges against Odje, he returned all the products he had bought from its website, he says. But rather than fiving him a refund, as promised, HP also filed charges against him.
“Throughout the pendency of the criminal proceedings, both plaintiffs had substantial difficulties with immigration officials every time they attempted to travel for business, personal or emergency reasons due to the charges lodged against them,” the complaint states.
“They both suffered public humiliation, emotional distress, loss of reputation, lost promotions, lost business opportunities and had severe difficulties in performing their jobs.”
Odje and Lancksweert want punitive damages for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by Thomas Farrell of Houston.