Summary:

An official police investigation has been opened to determine whether Gizmodo’s purchase of what could be an iPhone prototype violated any c…

iPhone 4 and 3GS side by side
photo: Gizmodo

An official police investigation has been opened to determine whether Gizmodo’s purchase of what could be an iPhone prototype violated any criminal laws.

CNet reports that according to officials, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has spoken to local police about the incident and the investigation is believed to be headed by a computer crime task force led by the district attorney’s office in Santa Clara County, where Apple’s headquarters are located.

While it’s possible the transaction violated laws, it is not clear whether the police are targeting Gizmodo, or the source who reportedly found the iPhone in a bar and sold it for $5,000 — or both. Gizmodo returned the device to Apple after Apple acknowledged lost property was theirs.

On Wednesday, Nick Denton, publisher of Gizmodo, was asked at paidContent.org’s State of the Gadget Media event that given the potential legal ramifications would he do anything differently? His response was no, except one minor regret: He wished he had held back the identity of the Apple engineer, who lost the phone, for a few days and “milked the page views” even more.

Gizmodo’s publicity stunt did indeed juice page views. On the day the story was published, Gizmodo’s unique visitors shot up to 2 million from an average of about 500,000 a day, Denton said at the event.

The police investigation will try and determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to file criminal charges. Gizmodo has claimed that it had no idea that device was stolen when they bought it. When Apple asked for the device back, they wrote:

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