A man from Tennessee has been indicted for attempting to extort $1 million in bitcoin by claiming that he had undeclared tax records of the former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Michael Mancil Brown (34) contacted the accounting firm used by Romney, PricewaterhouseCoopers, claiming that he had stolen computer documents containing up to twenty years’ worth of tax returns that Romney had refused to put into the public domain for the sake of his election campaign.
Mr. Romney’s tax returns had been a source of controversy throughout the campaign. Candidates are not required to divulge their tax returns, but it has become customary to do so. However, Mr. Romney refused to participate in the publication of his personal financial details.
The indictment of Brown is a result of an investigation that had been ongoing since last September, when it was first claimed that documents had been stolen from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Throughout the investigation, the company maintained that it could not find any evidence that it had been broken into. Furthermore, the documents that Brown claimed to possess have not yet been discovered.
Brown allegedly sent a letter to PricewaterhouseCoopers in August 2012, claiming to have the tax returns, and that he would release them to major news media outlets if he did not receive $1,000,000 worth of bitcoin. The indictment also claims that he invited other “interested parties” to send the same amount of digital currency to another bitcoin address if they wanted the documents.
According to Politico, Brown posted a cover letter to Pastebin that stated “A scanned signature image for Mitt Romney from the 1040 forms were scanned and included with the packages, taken from earlier 1040 tax forms gathered and stored on the flash drives”. The original Pastebin link to the content has since been removed.
The packages in question had been sent to several recipients to accompany the online cover letter. However, it appears that no one opened them for fear that the flash drives contained viruses.
According to The Bitcoin Magazine, Brown said in his letter:
“At the same time, the other interested parties will be allowed to compete with you. For those that DO want the documents released will have a different address to send to. If $1,000,000 USD is sent to this account below first; then the encryption keys will be made available to the world right away. So this is an equal opportunity for the documents to remain locked away forever or to be exposed before the September 28 deadline. Who-ever is the winner does not matter to us.”
Brown has been indicted on six counts of wire fraud and six counts of extortion.
Clearly in this case, the transfer of bitcoin was desirable because of its relative anonymity and the ability to mix transactions making it difficult, if not impossible, to trace the complete path of funds throughout the block chain.