Speed Reads

'Chuck' in real life

The FBI apparently pays Geek Squad techs who find, turn over evidence of child pornography

When you bring your computer to a Best Buy for repairs, the Geek Squad first makes you sign an agreement that states: "I am on notice that any product containing child pornography will be turned over to the authorities." If that seems cut and dry, a case wending through federal court in California has revealed some wrinkles, and a federal judge has ordered FBI agents, Geek Squad employees, and a federal prosecutor to testify starting Wednesday to examine how cozy a relationship the FBI has with the Geek Squad and whether it violates any laws.

The case in question involves Dr. Mark Rettenmaier, a gynecological oncologist in Orange County, California, who brought his desktop in to a Best Buy for repairs in November 2011. A technician at Best Buy's repair facility in Kentucky found an image of a naked prepubescent girl on a bed in a choke collar, then informed his boss, who told the FBI. Both Best Buy employees received some payment from the FBI, as did at least six others over four years, court records show.

The FBI got a warrant and searched Rettenmaier's home and computers in February 2012; federal prosecutors indicted him in November 2014. Rettenmaier's lawyer, James D. Riddet, argues that the relationship between the FBI and the Geek Squad is "so cozy" and extensive "it turns searches by Best Buy into government searches." Court records show the "FBI and Best Buy made sure that during the period from 2007 to the present, there was always at least one supervisor who was an active informant," Riddet told OC Weekly.

Riddet argues that this relationship violates the Fourth Amendment ban on warrantless searches, and U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney is letting him pursue that theory. Federal prosecutors say that if a technician "stumbles across images of child pornography" without the knowledge of the government, it can't be intentionally "assisting law enforcement efforts." Best Buy spokesman Jeff Shelman said Monday that "Best Buy and Geek Squad have no relationship with the FBI" but that "from time to time, our repair agents discover material that may be child pornography and we have a legal and moral obligation to turn that material over to law enforcement." If those employees are paid by the FBI, he added, that shows "extremely poor individual judgment" and violates company policy. You can read more about the thorny case at The Washington Post and OC Weekly.