Elections
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks toward members of the press after arriving at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks toward members of the press after arriving at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)  

Suspected Romney tax-return hacker appeals for legal funds

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The Secret Service has raided the house of a Tennessee man it believes tried to extort Gov. Mitt Romney and his tax accounting firm just weeks before the election.

The man, Michael Brown, is declaring his innocence and is asking for donations to pay for his legal defense.

The early September extortion attempt had negligible impact on the election, but did provide some drama for political media. The perpetrator reportedly promised not to release Romney’s personal income tax filings in exchange for $1 million in “Bitcoin” online currency.

“Assuming it’s not a hoax, the purported theft of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s tax returns has all the trappings of a high-tech whodunit: a politically themed burglary, a $1 million demand in hard-to-trace Internet currency, password-protected data and a threat to reveal everything in three more weeks,” read a Sept. 6 article in The Huffington Post.

During the election campaign, President Barack Obama’s team portrayed Romney as greedy and uncaring by highlighting the fact that Romney had released only the his two most recent tax returns. Romney’s sealed tax records were said by some Democrats — including the Democrats’ top leader in the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid — to hide embarrassing information that would doom his election chances.

A leaked court document shows that the Secret Service wanted to search the computers belonging to Brown, then living in Franklin, Tenn.

A judge approved a Sept. 14 search warrant for “records and information relating to … tax information of Willard M Romney … accessing computers without authorization … [and] demands for payment in exchange for releasing or destroying data taken from a computer without authorization.”

A separate Sept. 13 search warrant allowed police to get DNA from Brown, who is a computer expert and consultant.

Brown’s phone number is no longer operating, but he has set up a website to appeal for financial aid.

“At 6:10 A.M. before daylight on September 14, 2012 while my wife and I were sleeping in our small Franklin, TN home, agents of the U.S. Secret Service shined flashlights in our faces to awaken us and then grabbed my wife and myself literally by the wrists, pulling us from our bed and handcuffed us behind our backs,” Brown wrote.

“I am a self-employed wireless Internet service provider and web hosting/design[er] in Franklin, TN barely scratching out a living for my young family. … I desperately need financial support to replace all the equipment and software programs needed to get my business functioning 100% again and for my family’s survival,” he said in his online appeal.

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Romney Tax Return Extortion Plot