California Police Investigate 'Lost' Apple iPhone Caper

California authorities are investigating the lost Apple iPhone prototype incident that made news last week, according to a report by CNET News over the weekend.

Apple's next-gen iPhone? Source: Gizmodo.com

Police have spoken to Apple about the missing next-generation iPhone, CNET said in a story published on its site. The prototype ended up in the hands of Gizmodo, a technology blog that posted photographs of the smartphone last Monday, along with commentary about the new features that it had uncovered.

"There has been no case submitted to our office for review or prosecution," said Stephen Wagstaffe, chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, the location of the bar in Redwood City, Calif. where the iPhone was reported left behind by an Apple software engineer in mid-March.

Gizmodo purchased the prototype from an unidentified patron of that bar who had taken the iPhone after the Apple employee left it behind. Nick Denton, who heads Gawker Media, the company that operates Gizmodo, confirmed that his company paid $5,000 for the iPhone. Gizmodo has not named the seller.

Wagstaffe declined to answer additional questions, saying only that if there was a case, his office would handle it, not authorities in Santa Clara County, where Apple's headquarters is located.

Calls to San Mateo or Santa Clara investigators, Wagstaffe added, would be fruitless, as they had been told to direct all inquiries to him. "I think that's what you call a Catch-22," he said.

According to CNET, investigators from both counties are trying to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to file criminal charges. It was unclear whether those charges might be directed at Gawker Media and its Gizmodo staff, the unknown bar patron who picked up the prototype and later sold it to Gizmodo, or both.

Denton did not reply to a request seeking comment. Apple also did not respond to a request for comment or confirmation of CNET's report.

Santa Clara County offices serve as the headquarters of a special task force -- dubbed REACT for Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team -- that's investigates high tech crimes, including trademark violations and theft, in the Silicon Valley area. REACT also has an office in San Mateo County. CNET said that REACT is involved in the investigation.

A spokeswoman for Santa Clara County confirmed that its district attorney's office oversees REACT, but referred all other questions to Wagstaffe in San Mateo County.

On Tuesday, Brian Lam, Gizmodo's editorial director, acknowledged that the prototype had been stolen, not lost. "Just so you know, we didn't know this was stolen when we bought it," Lam said in a blog post that described Apple's request for the iPhone's return . Gizmodo later said that it had, in fact, returned the iPhone to Apple.

Under California law, the finder of lost property may be guilty of theft, and anyone who knowingly receives stolen property can also be prosecuted, CNET said, citing a section of the state's penal code .

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

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