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Apple security chief pays price for lost iPhone

Cava 22, the bar where an Apple employee lost control of an unreleased device sometime around July 22. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Against a backdrop of lost, unreleased devices and allegations that security employees impersonated policemen, Apple's chief of security operations was forced by the company into retirement, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

John Theriault, a former FBI agent who came to Apple from Pfizer in 2007, was the man in charge of Apple's security unit during a span that saw the secretive company embarrassed when important trade secrets were exposed.

Theriault was not immediately available for comment and a Apple spokesman declined to comment. The blog 9to5mac.com first reported Theriault's departure.

The troubles with Apple's security appeared to begin in March 2010, when an Apple engineer lost control of a prototype iPhone 4 during a night of drinking in a Redwood, Calif., bar. The handset was obtained by two men who later sold it to the blog Gizmodo, which published details about the phone.

In August 2010, a search of the home belonging to Paul Shin Devine, an Apple global supply manager, turned up shoe boxes full of cash. Devine was charged with 23 counts that included wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and accepting kick backs.

The most recent high-profile security goof occurred in July, when two of Apple's investigators went searching for an unreleased handset in San Francisco.

In August, CNET reported that Apple's security personnel went to San Francisco police and told them that an employee had lost a "priceless" unreleased phone, again in a bar, and that they had electronically tracked the device to a home in the city's Bernal Heights neighborhood.

When plainclothes officers and the Apple employees visited the home, Sergio Calderon, 22, acknowledged being at the bar the night it went missing but denied any knowledge of the device.

David Monroe, Calderon's attorney, told CNET that badges were flashed and Calderon was informed that if he didn't voluntarily submit to a search of his home, car, and computer, a search warrant would be obtained. Monroe said that Calderon agreed to the search but wouldn't have had he'd known it would be conducted by Apple employees.

The San Francisco Police Department says their officers never entered Calderon's home. The search failed to turn up the errant phone and now the actions of Apple's security team could draw the company into litigation.

Monroe said last month that if he didn't get answers from the police and Apple about the incident he would file suit. Monroe said previously and repeated today that he and Apple are in negotiations.

But forcing Theriault out now, with possible litigation hanging over Apple's head, could be a risky move according to Ira Winkler, an expert on corporate espionage and author of the book "Spies Among Us."

Winkler doesn't think it's a wise move when Apple may yet be required to explain the search of Calderon's home to a jury.

"While I know nothing directly about the case, my gut tells me that a company does not lay off or induce somebody to quit while it is potentially being accused of wrongdoing led by that person," Winkler said. "It's almost an admission that [the company and its employees] did do something wrong and likewise potentially creates a grudge against the company by the former employee. That person could end up being the best witness against them."

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