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‘Stolen’ iPhone 4 prototype criminal investigation nearly over

jason-chen-iphoneAfter nearly a year, the criminal investigation into Gizmodo.com‘s acquisition of a lost (and possibly stolen) iPhone 4 prototype will soon be complete, CNet reports. Authorities say they plan to release their report on the matter as soon as next month.

According to San Mateo, California, district attorney Stephen Wagstaffe, who spoke with CNet, “the investigation is ongoing,” but that investigators are conducing their final interviews of the case, and should present their findings to him shortly.

For those of you who don’t remember what has already become one of the most infamous stories in technology reporting history: The investigation centers around Gizmodo‘s purchase of an iPhone 4 prototype, lost at a Redwood City bar by 28-year-old Apple computer engineer Robert Gray Powell. The phone was found by 22-year-old college student Brian Hogan, who sold the phone to Gizmodo editor Jason Chen for $5,000.

Because Hogan sold the phone to Chen, the investigation has centered around whether this constitutes the exchange of stolen property — even though Hogan found the phone.

While no charges have yet been brought against Gawker Media, owner of Gizmodo, Chen or Hogan, it’s possible that all three could find themselves slapped with felony charges — Gawker Media and/or Chen for purchasing stolen property, Hogan for selling the phone rather than making a concerted effort to return it to its rightful owner (Apple).

Court documents show that Apple pressed San Mateo police to pursue the case a day after Gizmodo published photographs, video and details of the device. Soon after, police obtained a search warrant for Chen’s home, and confiscated various computers and other electronics as evidence for the investigation.

Because sale of the next-generation iPhone prototype involves a media organization, which has some robust protections under the Constitution’s First Amendment, the case is less than straightforward. It it not yet clear, however, whether Gawker Media, or Chen, are protected in this case.

Hogan may have less of a chance of avoiding charges, since California law seems to clearly state that anyone who “appropriates [found] property to his own use” is guilty of theft.

As for Powell, who lost the phone, CNet reports that his LinkedIn profile still shows that he works at Apple.