You made a fool of me… and got me in huge trouble with the feds.

For a long time, I have been a staunch advocate of putting passwords on all electronic devices — laptops, phones, tablets, etc. There’s no reason to leave your private life or sensitive business data accessible to any schmo who might have access to your phone, just because you’re too lazy to spend three seconds typing in a password. This is especially true for lawyers, given the client confidences that they handle.

At least personally, however, I’m more lax about sharing some access passwords with close friends or family. My girlfriend knows my iPhone and computer passwords. (I know hers too.) Usually I don’t stress about potentially catastrophic consequences of her knowing that information. But every once in awhile I read something that makes me seriously wonder if you can trust anybody.

My current crisis of trust arises from the prosecution of a man accused of conspiring to export millions of dollars of electronic equipment from the U.S. to Iran. Prosecutors found “incredibly blatant admissions of criminal wrongdoing and philandering” on the defendant’s iPhone. But the man says his wife — who he is currently trying to divorce — stole the phone and forged the incriminating evidence.

Talk about emasculating. Let’s read more about this not-so-happy couple.…

Law Technology News reported the story yesterday:

Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., intend to use notes on an iPhone in the criminal prosecution of a man charged in a conspiracy to export millions of dollars worth of computer equipment from the United States to Iran.

There’s one catch: the man’s defense lawyers claim the notes on the Apple iPhone 3G is fake.

Massoud Habibion’s defense attorneys at McGuire Woods are now seeking access to the iPhone to conduct their own forensic examination before the start of trial in Washington federal district court.

This is definitely more exciting than your average e-discovery dispute. We have allegations of theft, forgery, marital infidelity, and of course the core issue of doing illegal business with one of the most unpopular countries in the world.

Here are the juiciest parts. I can already see this in a new John Grisham novel:

Habibion’s lawyers accused [his soon-to-be-former wife, Yeganeh] Abouhossein of telling her husband she destroyed the phone after taking it from him one day last April, the same month he was arrested in California.

“Because he was falsely led to understand that the iPhone was irreparably destroyed, he did not bother to disconnect it from his work exchange server, unwittingly allowing the opportunity for his emails to download onto the iPhone through a sync with the system,” the defense attorneys said in court papers.

Habibion claims Abouhossein “tampered with the device, adding numerous falsely inculpatory and other inappropriate notes to various individuals listed in the ‘contacts’ section, with the intent to ensure Habibion’s conviction in this federal criminal case as well as to wrongfully defeat pending divorce proceedings against him.”

Habibion’s lawyers describe the notes as “incredibly blatant admissions of criminal wrongdoing and philandering” that bear directly on two proceedings against Habibion in which Abouhossein has a “demonstrable interest.” The attorneys said the entries are “entirely bogus.”

J. Patrick Rowan, of McGuire Woods, is representing Habibion. He wrote a compelling brief [PDF] asking to subpoena Abouhossein for the iPhone. Allegedly she stole it from her husband while they were attending their daughter’s school function together. He asked her to give back. Abouhossein refused and eventually told him she “disposed of it by throwing it down a canyon.”

I will repeat that, because it bears repeating. Abouhossein said she threw his phone down a canyon. That’s incredible.

But let’s keep moving. When Habibion was arrested, Abouhossein allegedly turned the phone (which she had not destroyed) over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The brief says she consented to have the phone searched as if it were her own phone. Investigators found blatant admissions of criminal activity in the phone’s contact section (some of the poorly written notes are included in Rowan’s brief), as well as notes describing several of Habibion’s contacts as sexual partners.

At this point, Abouhossein allegedly still has control of the phone, and will not give it up, based on the advice of her counsel.

The case is pretty ugly, no matter how you slice it. Either Habibion’s soon-to-be ex-wife hates him so much that she went to extreme, complicated measures to ruin his life. Or, Habibion is totally guilty, and not a clever criminal, and cares so little about his soon-to-be ex-wife that he has no problem throwing her under the bus.

Hopefully the court will get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I’m going to crank up my speakers and listen to “Evil Woman” on repeat. It’s been stuck in my head for the last 45 minutes.

Defense Lawyers Seek iPhone 3G Data in Conspiracy Prosecution [Law Technology News]


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