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Defense to use iPods to review evidence in federal drug case in Toledo

People who want to listen to their favorite music while working out or catch reruns of television shows such as Desperate Housewives and Lost have made the iPod one of the world's most popular high-tech toys.

Now defense attorneys and their clients in a federal drug case in U.S. District Court in Toledo are using the hand-held portable player in a way that Steve Jobs likely didn't envision when his company, Apple Computer, unveiled it. Instead of tunes and videos, recordings from the federal government's wiretaps of alleged drug deals have been downloaded into iPods.

U.S. District Judge David Katz recently approved the purchase of six iPods and power adaptors so 21 defendants in a multicount drug conspiracy case and their attorneys can listen to the wiretaps before the case goes to trial. Nearly 100 hours of the wiretaps obtained in connection with the five-year investigation will be downloaded and condensed from 13 CDs into the portable music players.

Defendants who are in custody will be able to use the iPods to review the evidence in the U.S. Marshal's office in the federal courthouse. Other defendants who are free on bond or otherwise not in custody will be able to do the same in the offices of their attorneys.

The iPods will be available in the clerk's office in federal court and can only be signed out by officers with the marshal's office or attorneys involved in the case.

Jeff Helmick, an attorney representing a defendant charged in the case, was designated by Judge Katz to transfer the information from the CDs into the portable players. Mr. Helmick said the devices are easy for the defendants to use and ensure that defendants and attorneys cannot reproduce the recordings, which was a concern of the court.

The Toledo federal court faced a similar issue in preparing defendants and attorneys for the 2004 trial of members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, a racketeering and drug-conspiracy case that involved more than 30 defendants.

Mr. Helmick said a private firm was contracted to format recorded information obtained in the Outlaws investigation into CDs at an estimated $80,000 to $100,000 cost to the government. By comparison, he said, each iPod and power adaptor cost taxpayers about $330.

"The iPods are easy to use, save a lot of money, and control access to the information pursuant to the orders of the court. This is a promising solution to a real practical problem," Mr. Helmick said.

Judge Katz said the portable players will satisfy concerns about costs, security, and technology, and could be used again in future cases for similar purposes.

"My guess is that the government will spend less than $2,000 on the iPods and the adaptors, which will likely make taxpayers very pleased. This shows a responsible approach to meeting the concerns of government in controlling costs and concerns for defendants in obtaining easier access to discovery information," Judge Katz said.

The defendants, who were charged in a 50-count indictment in September, are scheduled for trial May 9.

Toledo is the only court in the northern district of Ohio, which includes Cleveland, to embrace the technology.

Toledo attorney David Klucas, who was appointed to represent a defendant in the case, said he doesn't own a portable player, but he believes the devices could be helpful in providing assistance to his client.

"The government is likely going to play these tapes at trial. It is an effective way for my client to review the evidence before going to trial," he said.

The iPod's popularity continues to surge with a total 42 million sold since they were introduced in 2003. Apple Computer brought in a record $5.7 billion in sales during the 2005 holiday quarter as it sold 14 million iPods. The company sold 4.5 million of the devices and had $3.5 billion in sales during the same quarter a year earlier, reported Mr. Jobs, the company CEO.

Meanwhile, Apple's online iTunes store has sold more than 850 million songs and 8 million videos to date, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

mreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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