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Search Warrant and Affidavit Detail Apple's Role in Missing-iPhone Investigation

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The search warrant and affidavit unsealed at the request of The Times and other media outlets sheds more light on a case that has generated a great deal of public interest in Apple Inc.'s role in the investigation of its missing prototype iPhone.

According to the search warrant, Apple CEO Steve Jobs contacted technology blog Gizmodo.com editor Brian Lam to ask him to return the prototype that the electronics giant said was stolen after a company engineer lost it in a bar, according to the court documents released Friday.

Apple closely guards unreleased versions of the iPhone, which generated $13 billion in sales in 2009. Lam told Jobs in an e-mail that he would return the phone if Apple confirmed that it was the prototype and that it belonged to Apple, according to the affidavit by Det. Matthew Broad of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, who is part of the REACT task force which investigates high-tech crimes.

Gizmodo published a copy of that letter from Apples General Counsel Bruce Sewell on its site.

The REACT task force has been investigating Apple's claim that the prototype was stolen. It broke down the front door of Jason Chen, the Gizmodo editor who had the phone, and seized his computer and other electronics. Gizmodo, owned by Gawker Media, said it paid $5,000 for the phone.

Media organizations sought to have the affidavit unsealed to determine whether the task force had a legal basis to break into the home of a journalist.

According to the affidavit, investigators from the REACT task force believe Brian Hogan found or stole the prototype phone that was accidentally left at a Redwood City restaurant by Apple employee Robert “Gray" Powell. Hogan knew that Powell was the phone's owner, they say. But rather than return the phone to Powell or to Apple, he tried to spark a bidding war among technology publications to buy it, the court filings allege. Hogan's lawyer, Jeffrey Bornstein, could not be reached for comment.

Hogan ultimately sold the iPhone to Jason Chen, who disassembled it and damaged it, according to investigators. They also accuse Hogan of trying to conceal or destroy evidence that would show his involvement.

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