Two young men involved in the sale of an iPhone 4 prototype found in a Silicon Valley bar last year pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of theft Tuesday, putting an end to the drawn-out drama.
The two have each been sentenced to one year of probation, 40 hours of community service and will have to pay $250 each in restitution to Apple, according to CNET.
Brian Hogan, a 21-year-old student at the time, admitted to finding the phone at the Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, California, after it was left behind by an Apple engineer named Gray Powell, and later selling it to Gizmodo. Sage Wallower, a friend of Hogan’s, who reportedly helped shop the device around to media outlets.
“We asked for some jail time,” San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told CNET. “The judge considered that Wallower had served in the armed forces and Hogan was enrolled in San Jose State and neither had any criminal record, and decided that jail time wasn’t required…. This was a couple of youthful people who should have known better.”
In April last year, Gizmodo, which is owned by Gawker Media, published a bombshell story about the iPhone prototype, after paying $5,000 for exclusive access to the device. Gizmodo eventually returned the device to Apple, but not before publishing numerous photos of the phone.
Apple told police at the time that the publication of Gizmodo’s story was “immensely damaging” to the company, because consumers would stop buying current generation iPhones in anticipation of the upcoming product. Apple told police that the device “was invaluable.”
Hogan was at the German beer garden Haus Staudt with friends when another patron handed him the phone after finding it on a nearby stool. The patron asked Hogan if the phone belonged to him, and then left the bar. Hogan asked others sitting nearby if the phone belonged to them, and when no one claimed it, he and his friends left the bar with the device.
Hogan didn’t know what he had until he removed a fake cover from the device and realized it must be a prototype of Apple’s upcoming next-generation iPhone, according to Gizmodo’s account of the find.
A friend of Hogan’s then offered to call Apple Care on Hogan’s behalf, according to Hogan’s lawyer. That apparently was the extent of Hogan’s efforts to return the phone before it was sold.
After the friend’s purported efforts to return the phone failed, several journalists were offered a look at the device. Wired.com received an e-mail — not from Hogan — offering access to the iPhone, but did not follow up on the exchange after the tipster made a thinly veiled request for money. Gizmodo then paid $5,000 in cash for it.
Following publication of the photos by Gizmodo, police launched an investigation to find the person who had sold it to the media outlet. They closed in on Hogan after his roommate called an Apple security official and turned him in, according to court records.
The tip sent police racing to Hogan’s home, and began a strange scavenger hunt for evidence that a friend of Hogan’s had scattered around this Silicon Valley community. Police recovered a desktop computer stashed inside a church, a thumb drive hidden in a bush alongside the road, and the iPhone’s serial-number stickers from the parking lot of a gas station.
Wired.com independently identified Hogan as the finder of the prototype by following clues on social network sites, and then confirmed his identity with a source involved in the iPhone find.
Hogan later said through his attorney that he regretted not turning the phone over to Apple.
Prosecutors had also gone after Gizmodo editor Jason Chen initially, obtaining a warrant to search his home and threatening to prosecute him, but they ultimately dropped any plans to file charges against him.
This year, another iPhone prototype was left at a San Francisco bar in a bizarre déjà vu of the previous incident. This time, Apple security employees tracked the phone to the residence of a bar patron and used San Francisco police to help them gain access to the residence to conduct a search, according to CNET. They were unsuccessful in finding the device, however.
But the device, presumably an early version of the iPhone 4S announced last week, did not end up in the hands of a tech blogger this go-round.
Image: Brian Hogan in a 2008 blog photo.