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Newport doctor charged with child porn wants evidence thrown out, claims FBI misconduct

A Newport Beach doctor facing child pornography charges claims FBI agents found potentially incriminating photos by illegally searching his home and improperly seizing a cellphone on which prosecutors allege they found hundreds of images of young girls along with snapshots of gynecological exams.

Dr. Mark Rettenmaier, 63, a gynecological oncologist who treated patients at Hoag Hospital, was indicted last year in federal court in Orange County on two felony counts of possession of child pornography.

He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $100,000 bail, although he has temporarily stopped seeing patients.

Prosecutors allege that a computer repair technician working on Rettenmaier’s computer found child porn on its hard drive and alerted the FBI, prompting agents to search the drive and Rettenmaier’s Laguna Hills home in 2012.

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Rettenmaier’s lawyer, James Riddet, asked a judge on Friday to throw out any evidence the FBI gathered, partially because he claims the agency deliberately left out crucial information when asking a magistrate to authorize the searches.

According to Riddet’s motion, agents omitted that the images found on the hard drive were remnants of deleted files that required specialized computer forensics tools to view.

That also means, Riddet argues, that nobody can be sure exactly when the images were placed on the drive, when they were deleted or whether Rettenmaier ever viewed them.

The motion also contends that FBI agents looked at only one image on the hard drive before requesting the warrant and that the picture they looked at is not technically child pornography because it doesn’t show a sexual act, even though it depicts a naked girl.

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In a phone interview, Riddet said he was confident the magistrate who authorized the search warrant would have rejected it had FBI agents provided all the facts.

“When you boil it all down and you put all the facts together, there is no probable cause,” Riddet said.

Beyond that, Riddet asked the judge to throw out any evidence gleaned from the original hard drive because, he argues, the FBI had an ongoing relationship with the technicians doing the repairs and essentially had deputized them to look for child pornography.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anthony Brown declined to talk on the record about Riddet’s motion. Brown will have the chance to file a written response before a hearing in February.

A judge has barred Rettenmaier from treating minors and has ordered hospitals to restrict his Internet access until the case is settled. Riddet asked the judge in March to ease those conditions so Rettenmaier could continue to practice, but the prosecution pushed back.

The U.S. attorney’s office wrote that investigators found more than 800 pictures of naked or partially naked girls on Rettenmaier’s iPhone in a password-protected application that allowed him to double-tap the phone’s screen to replace the pictures with a benign image in case he needed to hide them quickly.

Prosecutors wrote that the iPhone also contained what appeared to be pictures of gynecological exams or surgeries that Rettenmaier performed.

“These facts suggest that defendant used his personal iPhone to look at child pornography at work and to take and store pictures of his own patients undergoing medical procedures,” they wrote. “The former is illegal; if the latter is not illegal, it implies a deep disregard for the dignity of his patients. Both illustrate defendant’s willingness to cross the line of what is appropriate.”

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Riddet ultimately withdrew the request to ease the restrictions.

Riddet said Rettenmaier “has taken a leave based primarily on the reluctance of insurance to cover him while this indictment is pending and the skittishness of hospitals he has privileges at.”


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