A Best Buy spokesman said Friday that the company is investigating whether one of its employees was paid by the FBI for information about illicit material found on customers' computers during repairs, as alleged by an attorney for a Newport Beach doctor facing federal child pornography charges as a result of a tip from the employee.
Best Buy regularly reports illegal material to law enforcement, but being paid by authorities to do so would violate company policy, according to an emailed statement from spokesman Jeff Shelman.
"We are looking at whether this is true and, if so, will deal directly with the employee," Shelman said.
"If we discover child pornography in the normal course of servicing a computer, phone or tablet, we have an obligation to contact law enforcement," he wrote. "We believe this is the right thing to do, and we inform our customers before beginning any work that this is our policy."
Shelman sent the statement Friday in response to a Daily Pilot story detailing allegations by defense attorney Jim Riddet that Best Buy employee Justin Meade was signed up as an FBI informant and paid $500 by the agency while he was a supervisor at the company's computer repair facility outside Louisville, Ky.
Riddet is representing Dr. Mark Albert Rettenmaier, a gynecological oncologist who practiced at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach until he was indicted last year on two felony counts of possession of child pornography.
According to court papers, FBI agents searched Rettenmaier's Laguna Hills home after he took his computer hard drive to a Best Buy store for repairs and it was shipped to the repair center in Kentucky.
There, court documents state, a technician discovered the child pornography and reported it to Meade, who then contacted the FBI.
Authorities say they also found child pornography on a laptop, multiple hard drives and an iPhone belonging to Rettenmaier.
According to Shelman, Meade's job required him to be the point of contact with the FBI when technicians he supervised discovered illegal material.
In 2012, Meade was moved to a new job that doesn't require him to contact the FBI, Best Buy said.
Court papers say Meade's FBI informant file was closed in 2012. Authorities acknowledge that Meade was paid the $500, but they have not explained why.
Rettenmaier has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and Riddet has asked a judge to throw out most of the evidence in the case.
By paying Meade, Riddet argues, the FBI was essentially encouraging him to look for child pornography. That, Riddet claims, amounted to a warrantless search of Rettenmaier's hard drive.