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A movie villain impersonator who tried to sell Mitt Romney’s tax returns can’t beat his convictions, but he has a shot at reducing his four-year prison sentence, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held May 15 ( United States v. Brown , 2017 BL 161276, 6th Cir., No. 16-6291, 5/15/17 ).
An envelope arrived at PwC’s Franklin, Tennessee, office in 2012. The letter inside claimed its anonymous sender had Romney’s unreleased tax returns, which, if true, carried important political significance for him as the Republican presidential nominee.
It said the returns were stolen from the firm and demanded $1 million to stop their release.
Subsequently, a post appeared on an anonymous German website that described the extortion demand. The post was accompanied by an image of “Dr. Evil”, the villain from “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” superimposed on the lobby of PwC’s Franklin office. In the movie, the villain played by Mike Myers tried to hold the world ransom for $1 million.
PwC’s investigation found Romney’s tax information was never actually stolen, but the Secret Service conducted its own criminal investigation.
“A trail of digital breadcrumbs” led the Secret Service to Michael Mancil Brown, who accessed the German site from his Franklin home. A warrant for Brown’s home revealed more evidence he was responsible for the extortion demand.
But Brown said others had access to his computer and gave the Secret Service a list of those eight people.
The jury disagreed and convicted him on 12 counts of extortion and wire fraud offenses.
Appealing his convictions, Brown argued that the warrant lacked probable cause, he was prejudiced by the lower court allowing jurors to ask questions during trial, and he didn’t obstruct justice. He said his sentence shouldn’t have been enhanced.
The warrant was sufficient and the juror questions were fine, but the obstruction of justice enhancement wasn’t justified, the Sixth Circuit held, affirming Brown’s convictions but vacating his sentence.
Brown didn’t lie and he didn’t impede the investigation, the court said, sending the case back to the district court for re-sentencing.
Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton wrote the opinion for the three judge panel that was joined by Chief Judge R. Guy Cole, Jr. and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge.
Bone McAllester Norton PLLC, Nasvhille, Tenn. represented Brown. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Nashville, Tenn. represented the government.
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