A Bronx pastor 's life was turned upside-down after buying a laptop on Amazon. The police claimed the computer contained sensitive surveillance software and threatened to arrest him if he didn't give it to them. NY1 Bronx Reporter Erin Clarke has the television exclusive.
Pastor Tyrone Holmes was in church behind his organ when his life took a nightmare turn -- just because he purchased what he thought was a new computer for his ex-wife.
"Three months later, I have the NYPD helicopters flying around my home while I'm here playing for a funeral, saying, 'Come outside. You have a computer that belongs to the Department of Defense,'" recalled Holmes, a pastor at Samuel's Temple Church of God in Christ.
Holmes bought the Apple MacBook Pro through Amazon for more than $2,300. So when the police suddenly appeared at his home, Holmes said he thought someone was trying to blackmail him. But it quickly became clear this was no shakedown.
His lawyer tried to reason with the detective on the case.
"Saying to them, 'He's done nothing wrong, and can you show me where he's run afoul of the law?' — that didn't seem to really satisfy the powers that be," Attorney Jeff Garfin said. "They wanted this computer. They would go to any extent to get it back."
And the clock was ticking. As an email from the United States District Court Southern District of New York shows, the detective threatened to arrest the pastor unless he returned the laptop.
The detective didn't seem to care that Holmes had a receipt showing he legally bought the computer, and neither did CheckPoint Fluidic Systems International, a Louisiana company with offices in Dubai which tracked the laptop to Holmes, claimed ownership, and demanded its return.
"Perhaps they've got software in there for oil production, oil reserves," Attorney Robert Leino said. "This is very vital, confidential, top-secret information."
Holmes hired a private investigator to get the computer back. It was turned it over to the police in return for a written pledge that he would not face charges.
It's still not clear to Holmes what happened, only that the laptop contained "sensitive proprietary information."
"I contacted Apple, I contacted Amazon, they're both blaming each other," Holmes said. "They wrecked my life. They wrecked it and they don't care."
Holmes has filed a federal lawsuit against the three companies, seeking damages. An Amazon spokesperson told me that the company does not comment on litigation. Apple and CheckPoint did not respond as of air time.
"What is frightening is that if you buy Apple computers, it could happen to you. If you buy from Amazon, this could happen to you," Leino said. "It portrays a larger problem."
As for that $2,300 that he paid for the computer, Holmes has not gotten it back.