Michael Brown, a self-employed techie who offers a wireless Internet service, said he read the reports in early September of an anonymous computer hacker claiming to have copies of presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax returns.
His knowledge of computers, Brown said, made him curious how such a stunt may have been managed.
A couple of weeks later, the Secret Service, acting on a search warrant, smashed through his front door and spent the next 18 hours pulling laptops, hard drives and all manner of digital storage devices from his Franklin home.
Now, almost two months since his home was searched, Brown has not been charged with a crime.The search warrant the feds issued to search Brown's home had been ordered sealed, but he graciously posted it online for your viewing pleasure. One of the flash drives appears to incriminate Brown because of images of a cat belonging to a family friend of Brown. He says he may have used the flash drive to repair the friend's computer and later discarded it, falling into someone else's hands who dug through his garbage. The search warrant also identifies IP addresses that may connect Brown to the online posting seeking the $1 million payment. Even more incriminating was Brown's past connection to the use of a digital currency site through which the person requesting the payment sought to be paid. "Several years ago Brown paid $5,000 to acquire about 371,000 bitcoins and, according to a 2011 article in Wired magazine, was the 'richest man in in the bitcoin realm,'" the Tennessean reported. "Brown acknowledged the circumstantial connection but said that, after the value of bitcoins tanked, he created another form of digital currency to compete with bitcoin. Why would he demand payment in a digital currency that competes with his own? Brown countered." Brown also admits that he was a target of a Secret Service investigation a few years ago in which he was suspected of illegally accessing an insurance company's computer server and stealing thousands of social security numbers belonging to its customers. Brown was not charged in connection with that investigation.
Brown is a target of an investigation into an apparent attempt to extort money by claiming to have the former GOP nominee’s tax returns. The purported heist was announced in a letter posted online that solicited $1 million either to release the information or to keep it from the public. That same letter, along with supposedly encrypted flash drives containing the tax returns, was delivered to county Democratic and Republican offices in Williamson County.
The Secret Service isn’t saying whether someone actually downloaded Romney’s tax filings, but Brown is now going public with his denial of having any role in the plot. He even created a website, mbdonationfund.com, drawing attention to the case.