Nice link jav...
I'm of the opinion that this was either a complete marketing ploy or became a marketing ploy once Powell reported the device as lost. Apple has one of the best marketing departments in the world and they likely decided that it would be best to find a method to showcase the leaked information rather than attempt to quash it. Considering that once a device has been leaked the information won't just disappear, it seems to be the best choice they could have made. Keep in mind that Gizmodo is part of a media company and media companies are in the business of selling services to consumers. Now if previewing a brand new product isn't a service, I don't know what is. They have no obligation to tell the truth, and could have made up the story or just told an altered version of what actually occured.
What I think happened:
Powell lost the phone.
Guy found it.
Apple finds out Powell lost the phone, turns it off via MobileMe, giving the finder enough time to figure out it's "special".
Apple contacts Gizmodo and the two come to an agreement.
Gizmodo buys the phone and does their song and dance.
Now it's also possible that Apple actually received the phone back or never lost it. If they got the phone back it's likely that they thought the information might get out anyway, so why not use it to their advantage. If they never lost it in the first place it's likely a marketing ploy to detract from recent bad press. In either of those cases they decided they couldn't preview it themselves and needed a bit more from the story so they'd send it to Gizmodo with the agreement that Gizmodo would report that they bought the phone. It also could have been an apple employee that "found" the phone in the bar and sold it, but truthfully if this was a "conspiracy" it likely happened in the simplest way possible. It was lost, Apple decided to market it and contacted Gizmodo to do so.