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Feds return some items seized from Florida journalist

Prosecutors agreed to return a laptop and hard drive to former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke, but are still keeping custody of his other items.

Prosecutors agreed to return a laptop and hard drive to former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke, but are still keeping custody of his other items.

Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)
Former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke (inset picture) from an undated social media image. (Graphic by The Desk)

Federal prosecutors who are investigating a Florida journalist’s connection to an apparent cyber intrusion scheme have returned some of his computer files and equipment that were seized earlier this year during a search of his home.

The devices returned to former Deadspin editor Timothy Burke last week include an Apple laptop and an external hard drive that contained files unrelated to the investigation, a prosecutor in Florida said in a memo filed with the U.S. District Court in Florida last week.

Additionally, federal agents have also agreed to return files discovered during their search of Burke’s other computers that are unrelated to their investigation, including data that is needed to run various websites associated with Burke’s consulting businesses, the prosecutor said.

In May, federal agents executed a search warrant on Burke’s home in connection with a suspected cyber trespass scheme in which the journalists is believed to have misappropriated login credentials to an online platform in order to watch and record various raw news feeds associated with Fox News Channel programs.

Among the recordings purportedly captured by Burke include unedited video of a conversation between former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and rapper Kanye “Ye” West, portions of which were never aired on the channel.

As of Wednesday, Burke has not been charged with a crime. Lawyers representing the journalist maintain Burke did nothing wrong; they say he logged in to a cloud-based service used by media outlets after someone gave him a username and password that belonged to a CBS television affiliate.

Burke never published the clips on his own. Instead, he apparently passed them off to other publications, including Vice and Media Matters, which used them to amplify their own coverage of Fox News.

Related: The Desk’s comprehensive coverage of the Timothy Burke investigation

The case involving Burke has drawn widespread public interest, including from fellow journalists who suggest Burke’s use of a CBS affiliate’s username and password — which his attorneys have described as “demo” credentials — should be overlooked because the videos he obtained cast Fox News in a negative light.

The raid on his home — which he shares with his spouse, a local elected official — also drew significant interest from the local media, including the Tampa Bay Times, which filed a motion in federal court seeking to obtain a copy of the search warrant and related documents supporting it.

In July, a copy of the unredacted search warrant was obtained and published by The Desk. The warrant revealed the scope of the investigation against Burke, which centered around alleged violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the federal anti-hacking statute that criminalizes unsanctioned password sharing and unauthorized access to password-protected websites.

The original warrant alleged Burke was involved in “criminal conduct” — though, again, as of this writing, he has not yet been charged — around August of last year, when investigators believed he and possibly others started intercepting unedited video transmissions destined for Fox News.

As the investigation progressed, federal agents assigned to the case learned additional information that suggested the alleged conspiracy might have actually started six months earlier. Over the summer, prosecutors went back to a magistrate judge to request expanding the scope of the warrant to date back to February 2022, a U.S. Attorney wrote in a brief filed with the court last week.

While prosecutors have agreed to return one laptop and a hard drive to Burke, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) won’t be returning the rest of his computers and cell phones, according to a seized item inventory list filed with the court. Investigators are also holding on to digital files that were created after February on some devices and after August on others, the inventory sheet says.

The computers and phones are being held as evidence in the event Burke is indicted and takes his case to trial. Federal agents have also received records and evidence from Fox and other companies, and at least one company has agreed to cooperate in the investigation, a source told The Desk in August.

Meanwhile, Burke continues to be active on social media, including X (the platform formerly known as Twitter), where his updates reach over 116,000 followers. Peppered in-between updates from the world of politics and television journalism, Burke produces a weekly social media segment called “Family Portrait” in which he publishes an unflattering image of ESPN sportscasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman from a freeze-frame of that week’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast — something Burke started back in 2018, well before he popped up on the government’s radar.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).