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FBI seizes new Laundrie cellphone, LI attorney says

Body camera footage from the Moab City Police

Body camera footage from the Moab City Police Department shows Brian Laundrie. Credit: Moab City Police Department

The FBI seized a newly purchased cellphone of Brian Laundrie, the missing Florida man named a "person of interest" in the homicide of his former fiance Gabrielle Petito, the 22-year-old Blue Point native whose body was found in a Wyoming national forest, Laundrie's attorney said Wednesday.

Steven Bertolino, the East Islip-based attorney for Laundrie and his parents, said Brian Laundrie bought a new cellphone at an AT&T store near their North Port, Florida, home on Sept. 4 — days after Laundrie returned home without Petito from a cross-country road trip.

Bertolino said the FBI seized Laundrie’s phone from his North Port home when it executed a search warrant there after he was reported missing by his parents Sept. 17 — three days after the parents told police their son left home without his cellphone or wallet for a hike in the nearby Carlton Reserve.

"Brian Laundrie needed to purchase a phone," said Bertolino. "His mother took him to the store to purchase a phone. The FBI is in possession of that phone. It’s the very phone that the FBI is in possession of following their search warrant of the Laundrie property."

Bertolino declined to say why Laundrie, 23, bought a new phone, but said he opened a new account with AT&T and disputed online chatter that it was a "burner" phone, which are prepaid devices that are difficult for authorities to track.

Laundrie, who is wanted on a federal arrest warrant related to credit card fraud allegedly committed after Petito’s homicide, has been the subject of an intense search by law enforcement in Florida.

"Brian is missing and the FBI is looking for him," Bertolino added. "We hope that they find him."

Bertolino also confirmed that Laundrie and his parents went camping on Sept. 6 and 7, at the Fort De Soto Park Campground in Tierra Verde, Florida — about a week after Laundrie returned home alone without Petito.

Laundrie and Petito were on a cross-country road trip in Petito's white van when in late August Petito stopped communicating with her family, who reported her missing about two weeks later. Laundrie returned home by himself in her van on Sept. 1 and refused to talk to authorities before going missing.

Courtney Bernal, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Denver, declined Wednesday to comment on Laundrie’s phone purchase or the overall search efforts.

"This is an ongoing investigation and we have no comment other than what is posted in our official statements on our Twitter feed," Bernal said in an email.

A spokeswoman for reality television personality Duane "Dog the Bounty Hunter" Chapman said in a statement Wednesday that he and his team were searching for Laundrie on an island near Fort De Soto Park. The Pinellas County Sheriff has declined to comment.

Bertolino responded: "I won't dignify that with a response."

Petito's parents reported her missing Sept. 11 and her body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19. The county coroner ruled her manner of death a homicide, but her cause of death has not been publicly released.

The FBI had also seized Laundrie's silver Ford Mustang convertible, the vehicle he drove to the reserve, according to what his parents told police. And authorities have also executed search warrants and seized Petito's white van and a computer hard drive found in the van as part of the investigation.

Petito’s parents and stepparents held an emotional news conference Tuesday in Bohemia, during which their attorney urged Laundrie to turn himself in to authorities.

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