Cava 22 is pictured, the tequila bar where the latest iPhone prototype was supposedly lost at.  (Source: James Martin/CNET)
Phone was electronically traced to man's house, but police search revealed nothing

Either Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is conducting some highly sneaky guerrilla marketing, or the company needs to start giving out mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous sessions with its iPhone prototypes.

About a year and a half ago, the last new iPhone -- the iPhone 4 -- was lost by an Apple employee at a bar in California.  The phone was sold and wound up in the hands of Gizmodo triggering police raids and a maelstrom of excited blogosphere activity.

Now it's Deja Vu all over again as CNET is reporting that a prototype of Apple's new iPhone has been lost at the Cava 22 bar in San Francisco, California, a tequila lounge also known for its prized lime-marinated shrimp ceviche.

CNET's source claims:
Apple representatives contacted San Francisco police, saying the device was priceless and the company was desperate to secure its safe return.
According to CNET, Apple and the police used the phone's GPS signal to track it to a house in the city's Bernal Heights neighborhood.  Police spoke with a man in his 20s who acknowledged being at Cava 22 that night, but denied having found the iPhone.  He consented to a police search, but the cops found nothing.  At that point Apple reportedly offered him a large sum of money, no questions asked, but he declined.

If the man does possess the iPhone prototype, he might want to beware selling it to journalists.  One California law on missing property, drafted in 1872, warns that any person who finds missing property and has a good idea who the owner is, but "appropriates such property to his own use" anyways is guilty of theft.  And a second law warns that anybody receiving stolen property can be imprisoned for up to one year.

Apple eventually declined to pursue charges against the Gizmodo editor, Jason Chen, who allegedly purchased the prototype.  The two men who sold him the prototype -- Brian Hogan and Sage Wallower -- were both charged with criminal misdemeanors.  Their arraignments are set for today.

Apple commonly tests prototypes of its digital devices, but declined to comment in this new case.  A spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department said that Apple had not filed a police report, but declined to say if Apple had contacted them or if the supposed search occurred.

Contacted by CNET the bar's co-owner Jose Valle said he did not remember the police or Apple contacting him.  But he said he did recall a man calling multiple times earlier that month about a lost iPhone.  He said he would call the man back if he found it.  He quipped, ""I guess I have to make my drinks a little less strong."

Apple is rumored to be releasing its next generation iPhone, which some are referring to as the iPhone 5, at the end of this month.  The phone marks the first time Apple has broken from a once-a-year release schedule, this time taking an extra 3 months.  Despite that, the upcoming release is rumored to be more of an iterative design, with a more ambitious rewrite following on a shortened schedule in the Spring.

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