Apple is treating the case involving its lost-then-recovered iPhone 4G prototype as theft and vandalism, and not just a simple lost-and-found situation, according to court documents related to the search warrant issued to search the home of Jason Chen, the Gizmodo editor who first posted images and videos of the device.
The publication of those images and videos were “immensely damaging” to Apple because of the potential lose of sales of current versions of the iPhone, Apple told investigators.
The search warrant is related to the loss of a prototype iPhone 4G device by an Apple employee in March. The device was sold to the online tech publication Gizmodo, where Chen subsequently took it apart to show videos and photos.
In the search warrant, a copy of which can be read on the Scribd Website, a San Mateo County, Calif. Superior Court Judge authorized police to search Chen’s home for evidence related to buying or receiving stolen property, theft, and malicious damage of other peoples’ property.
All those charges are considered felons.
Evidence to be searched for and seized, according to the search warrant, included computer systems, digital storage devices, and digital and printed documents related to the case.
The search warrant was executed based on the investigation of Matthew Broad, a detective with the San Mateo County Sherriff’s Office and a member of the Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team, or REACT.
Broad wrote that he met on April 20 with Apple representatives who said that an Apple employee named Robert Gray Powell lost the device at a restaurant in Redwood City, Calif. on or about March 25.
The Apple representatives said the iPhone 4G was “invaluable” and that the publication of the images is “immensely damaging” to Apple, Broad wrote. “By publishing details about the phone and its features, sales of current Apple products are hurt wherein people that would have otherwise purchased a currently existing Apple product would wait for the next item to be released,” he wrote, citing his conversation with the representatives.
The charge of vandalism stems from the appearance of the iPhone 4G when returned to Apple, where employees found it could not be powered up, and that it had a broken ribbon cable, a screw which was put in wrong and caused a short circuit, broken back plate snaps, and stripped screws, Broad wrote.
The finder of the device was identified as Brian Hogan by a roommate who contacted police. That roommate said Hogan knew the device was not a typical iPhone and that he used Facebook to identify the person who lost it as Powell, Broad wrote.
The roommate said Hogan was aware that it could be sold to one of several IT publications, and that he said he was offered $10,000 by Gizmodo. The roommate also said she and other friends tried to persuade Hogan to not sell the device because it might ruin Powell’s career.
Broad also described efforts by Hogan and others to scatter evidence related to the loss of the device, and how he was able to recover that evidence, including Hogan’s computer, a thumb drive, a flash card, and the Apple iPhone prototype stickers.