A Tennessee man has been charged over a high-profile extortion and wire fraud scam involving former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's tax returns.
Michael Mancil Brown, 34, of Franklin, Tennessee faces six counts of wire fraud and six counts of extortion over his alleged involvement in a plot to blackmail Romney with threats to expose his tax records during last year's presidential campaign.
These tax records were supposedly swiped from the Franklin offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers before Romney was offered the chance to block their publication for $1m, payable in Bitcoins. Demand letters were also sent to Republican Party offices in Tennessee and PwC.
The blackmailer offered to release the mysterious documents if $1m was paid into a separate Bitcoin account.
According to charges contained in the indictment, Brown was behind attempts to auction off the supposed files. The Feds said that the claims made by the blackmailer, whatever their identity, of having compromised the accounting firm's computer systems before lifting the tax records of Mitt and Ann Romney were all hogwash.
A Department of Justice statement on the case goes on to allege: "Brown devised a scheme to defraud Romney, the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and others by falsely claiming that he had gained access to the PricewaterhouseCoopers internal computer network and had stolen tax documents for Romney and his wife, Ann D. Romney, for tax years prior to 2010."
Boasts posted on Pastebin back in September 2012 claimed that Romney's 1040 tax returns were copied onto a flash drive after a "team" had sneaked into the Franklin offices of PwC. In a later FAQ on the extortion demands, the "group" adopted the moniker "Dr Evil", a reference to the antagonist of the Austin Powers films who was also inclined towards making extortionate demands for “one MEEELLLION dollars”, in between demanding "sharks with fricking lasers".
Romney's disinclination to reveal his tax affairs was used against him throughout last year's presidential campaign, which was moving into overdrive at the time of the unsubstantiated record theft claims.
The author of the demand letters included a flash drive supposedly containing encrypted documents related to Romney's tax records, CNN reports.
PricewaterhouseCoopers said at the time of the initial claim that it had no evidence that its system had been accessed. Political officials turned over packages sent to their offices to Secret Service investigators without opening them, Politico adds. ®