Best Buy Child Porn Case Takes Yet Another Blow in Federal Court

Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Orange CountyEXPAND
Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Orange County
R. Scott Moxley

A nationally debated U.S. Department of Justice child-pornography case against a prominent Southern California doctor and involving Best Buy technicians working as secret government informants suffered another blow this week when a judge ruled that FBI agents deceitfully obtained a search warrant by omitting key exculpatory facts from a sworn affidavit.

Over intense objections by prosecutors, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney announced on May 15 that the FBI’s tainted search warrant required him to suppress alleged evidence collected during a raid on Dr. Mark Rettenmaier’s Laguna Niguel residence in 2012.

The bizarre federal prosecution, which has been featured in OC Weekly, began simply enough with Rettenmaier taking his non-functioning Hewlett Packard desktop computer to a Mission Viejo Best Buy, which sent the machine to the company’s national Geek Squad repair center in Kentucky.

At the time, nobody—including Rettenmaier—knew at least eight Geek Squad technicians at the facility were FBI snitches quietly assigned the task of snooping through customers’ files for the government, even when unnecessary for repairs, according to James D. Riddet, Rettenmaier’s defense attorney whose dogged investigatory and courtroom work has placed agents on the defensive for more than a year.

Though Riddet disagrees, Carney determined Rettenmaier didn’t have a legal expectation of privacy from the Geek Squad’s snooping; the FBI says the techs located a child-pornography image that launched the case, the raid and the arrest.

The federal case is problematic on several key fronts, according to Riddet. Under the attorney’s grilling earlier this year in Carney’s Santa Ana courtroom, an agent at one point conceded the picture, which doesn’t display genitals or sex, might not meet the legal definition of child pornography.

Carney opined this week that the image isn't chid porn and that agents weren't honest about their warrant-less inspections of the doctor's hard drive.

Equally troubling for the government is the fact that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has declared that potential child-porn images located on a computer’s unallocated space, which is where the photo in question in the Rettenmaier case was found, doesn’t meet the definition of possession because there’s almost no way to learn who placed it there and when.

Even a DOJ technical expert conceded during a Carney hearing that computer users surfing the internet have no idea that dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of sex images can be uploaded without their knowledge and discovered only with special software.

Upcoming Events

To obtain the search warrant, an FBI agent, who knew the importance of where the alleged child-porn image was found on Rettenmaier’s computer, failed to advise a magistrate judge of that fact.

Riddet, who is based in San Clemente at Bienert, Miller & Katzman, says the decision to push the tattered case forward belongs to Assistant United States Attorney Mark Brown, an accomplished sex-crimes prosecutor based in Orange County.

“We’re going to have to wait until January or February 2018 to see what the government is going to do,” the attorney said.

Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

To see prior coverage of this sensational case, go HERE.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >