Best Buy Geek Squad Informant Use Has FBI on Defense in Child-Porn Case
Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 2:59 p.m., By R. Scott Moxley
FBI agents and prosecutors usually strut inside Santa Ana's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, knowing they've focused the wrath of the criminal-justice system on a particular criminal. But an unusual child-pornography-possession case has placed officials on the defensive for nearly 26 months. Questions linger about law-enforcement honesty, unconstitutional searches, underhanded use of informants and twisted logic. Given that a judge recently ruled against government demands to derail a defense lawyer's dogged inquiry into the mess, United States of America v. Mark A. Rettenmaier is likely to produce additional courthouse embarrassments in 2017.
Rettenmaier is a prominent Orange County physician and surgeon who had no idea that a Nov. 1, 2011, trip to a Mission Viejo Best Buy would jeopardize his freedom and eventually raise concerns about, at a minimum, FBI competency or, at worst, corruption. Unable to boot his HP Pavilion desktop computer, he sought the assistance of the store's Geek Squad. At the time, nobody knew the company's repair technicians routinely searched customers' devices for files that could earn them $500 windfalls as FBI informants. This case produced that national revelation.
The FBI Is Apparently Paying Geek Squad Members To Dig Around In Computers For Evidence Of Criminal Activity
Law enforcement has a number of informants working for it and the companies that already pay their paychecks, like UPS, for example. It also has a number of government employees working for the TSA, keeping their eyes peeled for "suspicious" amounts of cash it can swoop in and seize.
Unsurprisingly, the FBI also has a number of paid informants. Some of these informants apparently work at Best Buy -- Geek Squad by day, government informants by… well, also by day.
According to court records, Geek Squad technician John "Trey" Westphal, an FBI informant, reported he accidentally located on Rettenmaier's computer an image of "a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck." Westphal notified his boss, Justin Meade, also an FBI informant, who alerted colleague Randall Ratliff, another FBI informant at Best Buy, as well as the FBI. Claiming the image met the definition of child pornography and was tied to a series of illicit pictures known as the "Jenny" shots, agent Tracey Riley seized the hard drive.
Not necessarily a problem, considering companies performing computer/electronic device repair are legally required to report discovered child porn to law enforcement. The difference here is the paycheck. This Geek Squad member had been paid $500 for digging around in customers' computers and reporting his findings to the FBI. That changes the motivation from legal obligation to a chance to earn extra cash by digging around in files not essential to the repair work at hand.
More of a problem is the FBI's tactics. While it possibly could have simply pointed to the legal obligation Best Buy has to report discovered child porn, it proactively destroyed this argument by apparently trying to cover up the origin of its investigation, as well as a couple of warrantless searches.
FBI Used Best Buy's Geek Squad To Increase Secret Public Surveillance
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 9:25 a.m., By R. Scott Moxley
Recently unsealed records reveal a much more extensive secret relationship than previously known between the FBI and Best Buy's Geek Squad, including evidence the agency trained company technicians on law-enforcement operational tactics, shared lists of targeted citizens and, to covertly increase surveillance of the public, encouraged searches of computers even when unrelated to a customer's request for repairs.
To sidestep the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against warrantless invasions of private property, federal prosecutors and FBI officials have argued that Geek Squad employees accidentally find and report, for example, potential child pornography on customers' computers without any prodding by the government. Assistant United States Attorney M. Anthony Brown last year labeled allegations of a hidden partnership as "wild speculation." But more than a dozen summaries of FBI memoranda filed inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this month in USA v. Mark Rettenmaier contradict the official line.
No, they didn't just 'detect' information, they actively searched for it...
Justice Department Sued Over Reputed FBI-Trained Best Buy Geek Squad Spies Privacy group sues to find out more about FBI relationship with Best Buy employees who detected illegal content during computer repairs
Susan Seager, May 31, 2017 @ 8:04 PM
The Justice Department was sued Wednesday by a privacy group seeking information on the FBI’s alleged recruitment of Best Buy employees to search consumer computers for child pornography during repairs.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Justice Department, demanding access to records about any FBI training and payment to Geek Squad workers to search customer computers without a court warrant.
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