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Singer vowed $1 million for laptop's return; jury says he must pay

November 29, 2012|By Tina Susman

NEW YORK -- A music mogul who offered $1 million for the return of a missing laptop was ordered to pay up after a jury ruled that he had reneged on his promise and owed the money to the auto-shop owner who found the computer.

The decision came Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, where a day earlier music producer and singer-songwriter Ryan Leslie took the stand to defend his decision not to pay Armin Augstein after the laptop was recovered two years ago.

Leslie’s main argument: Even though he got the laptop back, he was unable to access his original tunes on its hard drive and therefore the crucial intellectual property remained missing.

The jury disagreed after deliberating about three hours. "Ain't no way to get around ups & downs," Leslie, 34, a New York City resident, tweeted after the decision.  “Jury of my peers rules for the plaintiff.”

Leslie, whose "Transition" was nominated for a Grammy in 2011 for best contemporary R&B album, announced the reward in November 2010 after a bag containing the MacBook, hard drive, $10,000 cash and his passport disappeared from a car while Leslie was on tour in Cologne, Germany.  He initially offered a $20,000 reward for the laptop’s return but increased it to $1 million “in the interest of retrieving the invaluable intellectual property contained” on the laptop and hard drive.

The reward was advertised prominently, including in a video posted on YouTube and in public appearances by Leslie. "I actually had my whole new album on there, which I had been working on in secret, and it got stolen,” Leslie said shortly after upping the reward. “So right now, I got a million-dollar reward for anybody that can return my intellectual property to me."  

Not long afterward, Augstein, who runs a garage in Cologne, said he found the bag containing the laptop while walking his dog.  He filed suit about a year later after Leslie refused to pay him. “It’s  unfortunate that my client has to go to such lengths to recover the reward," his attorney, Michael Fischman, said at the time, the New York Daily News reported.

Testifying through an interpreter Tuesday, Augstein denied involvement in its disappearance, the New York Post reported.

“Germans are very solid, serious people and you don’t make allegations like that,” Augstein said.

After the verdict, the New York Post reported that Augstein declared himself “very happy” with the U.S. justice system but “disappointed” in Leslie. “No one forced him to make an offer of so much money,” he told the news outlet.

Leslie reportedly showed no emotion when the verdict was announced but said later he still felt that Augstein did not deserve the money, and that he might appeal the decision.

Leslie’s fans flooded him with tweets of support, although some said he should have paid the reward as soon as the computer was returned. As one said, “Bright side is you got that laptop back.”

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