- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Tennessee man was sentenced to 48 months in prison Monday after being found guilty of charges related to a 2012 scheme centered around former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

Michael Mancil Brown, 37, was convicted in May on six counts of wire fraud and six counts of using facilities of interstate commerce to commit extortion in connection with the headline grabbing stunt that preceded the 2012 presidential election.

Investigators set their sights on Mr. Brown after accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Democratic and Republican parties in his hometown of Franklin received packages in August 2012 containing letters in which the the author claimed to have acquired Mr. Romney’s tax records by breaking into the offices of the firm and hacking its network. Recipients were told they could either purchase the documents or prevent their disclosure by paying $1 million in Bitcoin to an account, but Mr. Romney eventually released his tax records the following month.

In the interim, investigators reviewed USB sticks that had been included in the packages and linked the scheme to Mr. Brown. Federal agents executed a search warrant at Mr. Brown’s residence in mid September, at which point authorities seized computers and other electronics while looking for “records and information relating to tax information of Willard M. Romney and Anne D. Romney.” A grand jury returned a 12-count indictment against Brown nine months later, and he was found guilty of all charges earlier this year.

PricewaterhouseCoopers later determined through an internal investigation that its networks hadn’t been compromised, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron Jones told The Tennessean that there was “no evidence that any of Governor Romney’s tax returns actually were stolen.”

Although investigators eventually determined that Mr. Brown never broke into PricewaterhouseCoopers as claimed, prosecutors successfully charged him with a dozen counts of wire fraud and extortion in connection with the attempted blackmail stunt.

“The success of this prosecution is due to the excellent online investigative skill and computer forensic analysis demonstrated repeatedly by the United States Secret Service in this era of increasingly high tech criminal conduct,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Smith said in a statement when Brown was convicted in May. “Hackers, aspiring hackers and identity thieves are identified, caught, prosecuted and convicted because of the work and determination of the Secret Service to stay ahead of people who abuse new technology to commit age-old crimes of fraud and extortion.”

In addition to spending the next two years behind bars, U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson ordered Mr. Brown to pay $201,836 in restitution to PricewaterhouseCoopers. He faced a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

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