Michael Brown Legal Defense Fund and Family Expense Fund
This website has been archived for use as reading material for Theresa Brown's course on Cyber Law Topics. Jon Witt is the developer/researcher who implemented the archive for the law school. Witt is well known for the work he did as a high level SEO (search engine optimizer) promoting consumer products for numerous national brands and especially for the huge success in marketing paper towels from CleanItSupply. Mr. Witt shares the teaching duties with Ms. Brown for this course. The course includes several esoteric topics including the ethics of search, big data and the law, and prosecution and defense in the age of the internet. This and the other websites in the syllabus are required reading for the course. The full reading list is available from Ms. Brown's course web page and from her office.
2012 Press Release
Suspected Romney tax-return hacker appeals for legal funds
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.
Michal Brown set up a website for the "Michael Brown Legal Defense Fund and Family Expense Fund" where he accepted donations.
This was the official website.
Content is from the site's 2012 archived pages a s well as from news articles relating to the events.
Secret Service investigates Franklin man in Romney tax return theft
Posted: Nov 05, 2012 2:40 PM EST
Updated: Jun 26, 2013 7:34 PM EDT
Posted by Jeremy Finley
FRANKLIN, TN (WSMV) -
A Franklin man is under investigation for the alleged theft of Mitt and Ann Romney's tax returns from PricewaterhouseCoopers in September, a Channel 4 I-Team investigation has found.
That suspect, Michael Brown, sat down for an exclusive interview with chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.
A federal search warrant, obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team and dated Sept. 13, spelled out that the Secret Service was looking for "records and information relating to tax information of Willard M. Romney and Anne D. Romney."
The search warrant states the agents are seeking from Brown's residence all evidence of accessing computers without authorization to obtain tax information and demands for payment in exchange for releasing data, and access to the computer network of PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Brown said Sept. 14 at 6:14 a.m., Secret Service agents kicked down the door to his home and forced him and his wife out of their bed in handcuffs.
"They said they're here to serve a search warrant for Romney's tax returns," Brown said. "My first reaction was, 'You've got to be kidding me.'"
Brown said all he knew about the alleged theft was what he had seen on television.
On Sept. 5, the Secret Service and the FBI began investigating an anonymous group's claim that they hacked into the network server of PricewaterhouseCooper in Franklin and stole Romney's tax returns dating before 2010.
A letter outlining the alleged theft, along with a flash drive, were dropped off at the Republican and Democratic headquarters in Williamson County.
The letter stated unless $1 million in online currency wasn't paid, those returns would be released to the media.
"They made it very clear that they were absolutely certain that I was the mastermind behind the whole thing," Brown said.
Brown suspects one of the reasons he is under suspicion is because the raid on his home Sept. 14 wasn't the first time the Secret Service had raided his home.
On Nov. 19, 2009, the Secret Service raided his house. Brown was under investigation after someone allegedly stole encrypted information on 1,000 customers from a Farm Bureau website.
Brown maintained his innocence and ultimately no charges were ever brought.
Brown said when the Secret Service raided again in September, he knew he was in even more trouble.
Brown took photos after the raid, and they show agents seized every bit of computer equipment, phone and tablet that could store electronic data.
After the Sept. 14 raid, Brown said he and his attorney volunteered to meet investigators, including U.S. Department of Justice officials, who had flown in from Washington, D.C., at the federal building downtown.
"I believe they thought I was coming down there to confess to everything, I suppose," Brown said. Instead, Brown said he denied it all and infuriated the agents.
"This is the second time the Secret Service has thought you are responsible for some crime?" Finley asked.
"I understand that the Secret Service is just doing its job. They are investigating for a crime. But at the same time I kind of feel like I'm being profiled," Brown said.
"Are you a computer hacker?" Finley asked.
"No," Brown said.
"Did you steal Mitt Romney's tax returns?" Finley asked.
"No, I did not," Brown said.
Brown understands some aspects of his life do look questionable under the circumstances of the alleged tax return thefts.
Many rooms in Brown's house are wired with cameras, including a camera outside, but he said they're for security.
His office is full of computers and electronic data, but he said that is for his Internet provider business.
And in 2008, Brown admits he was a staunch campaigner for President Barack Obama.
"Would you have gone to this extreme length to try and get the president elected?" Finley asked.
"Absolutely not," Brown said.
Brown said the Secret Service would not show him the evidence they claim to have on him, but the search warrant does reveal some details.
Brown said the agents said that they can tell that at least one of the flash drives included in the envelopes with the threat letters was once connected to one of his computers.
Also, in the warrant, after listing all of the items that the agents were seeking is a grainy photo of a cat.
The agents told Brown that the photo of the cat was also on the flash drive.
Brown said the photograph was not taken at his house, and the cat is not his pet. He said his daughter recognized the cat, and said it belonged to a family friend.
Brown had also repaired that friend's computer four years ago. Brown said he gave the agents that information, and they seized the computers of that family friend Sept. 14 as well.
The Channel 4 I-Team reached out to that individual and we are still awaiting confirmation of that incident.
Brown said the agents said they could arrest and charge him at any time. Brown said all he can do is wait and know that the computer equipment taken by the federal agents has left him destitute.
"The amount of strain that this has put on us - both emotionally and financially - is pretty great," Brown said.
A spokesman for the Secret Service said it had no comment.
"Since there is an active and ongoing investigation by the United States Secret Service, the U.S. Attorney's Office cannot, at this time, offer any further comment related to the reported hacking of PWC computers and the unauthorized possession of tax return information of a Presidential candidate," said Jerry E. Martin, U.S. Attorney.
Michael Brown – Mitt Romney Unreleased Taxes PricewaterhouseCoopers (No Charges Filed)
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. Because my wife was wearing her night clothes, the agents removed her from our bedroom and searched her person. We were unable to comfort our ten-year old daughter whom we could hear in another room or tend to our eight-month old daughter; both children being awakened by strangers entering their dark rooms.
It wasn't until after thirty minutes after agents entered our home that my wife and I learned that they were searching our home for evidence that I was the person attempted to hack into the local office of the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers computer containing Mitt Romney's undisclosed tax returns.
I am a self-employed wireless Internet service provider and web hosting/designed in Franklin, TN barely scratching out a living for my young family. You can see form the search warrantthat virtually all of the equipment and software I use for my business was seized, most of which to date has not been returned to me. Some of the items that have been returned were damaged. Even though much time has passed since the search warrant was executed, I may still be charged with a federal crime. However, even if the government correctly concludes that I am not the person they are seeking but continues its investigation it could be years before all of my equipment is returned to me -- if ever. Accordingly, 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.
If you are willing to help, please make a financial contribution in my name to help me rebuild my business, pay legal expenses incurred so far, or in my wife's name for my family's support. You can use Paypal for electronic donations, or send a check to our 107 Cadet Circle, Franklin, TN 37064 payable to either Michael Brown and / or Kathryn Brown. Any check donations received will be deposited at a local Regions Bank into accounts controlled by a local attorney with the distributions to my defense or family on an as-needed basis.
Many have suggested that a FAQ section be created.
- Q: What happened at Farmer Insurance Group (2009)?
- A: It is a long story, the short version. A manager for Farmers Insurance hired myself to better organize the web database into a spreadsheet that was neatly ordered into names, address, phone numbers, and social security numbers of the customers. I did everything except the social security number part because I wasn't sure of the legal status of doing that. For a few months, I tried to contact someone else at Farmers Insurance about the legally of that or if that information was so suppose to be available like that by design.
When I finally threaten to go the news media about it, I got connected with the top officers at the company. They explained that no one should have access to any customer's social security number, but I was trying to show them it was wrong assumption. Soon afterwards, instead of fixing the issue, they called the federal government and told them I had stolen their customer data which contained tens or hundreds of thousands of social security numbers. Soon after the Secret Service break in with a search warrant looking for those social security numbers. The Secret Service only took my workstation at that time. After many months and many visits to the Secret Service office in Nashville, the case was finally closed for being a waste of time and resources for the Secret Service and my workstation was returned damaged. No charges were ever filed and the case dropped.
- Q: Do any of the IP Address in the search warrant belong to you?
- A: Not a single one, not even close. The IPs used for the company and myself start in the 75.146.X.X range.
- Q: Were you running a TOR exit node?
- A: No exit node, ever.
- Q: Are those your cats?
- A: No, the cats belong to someone else at a different address. The Secret Service did take pictures of our cats though.
- Q: Is that the inside of your house?
- A: No, although the Secret Service did go around and photograph every wall in the house while they were here.
- Q: Do any of the flash drives belong to you?
- A: I have not seen any of the flash drives myself, so my answer is No.
- Q: Are you still involved in BitCoin?
- A: Years ago I was, but not today. I am actually involved in a completely different project over at timekoin.org and have been for years.
- Q: Why the financial issues?
- A: The Secret Service came in a few months ago and a lot of important and expensive stuff has been missing since. It is difficult for any business to survive if all of its operating equipment is taken and not returned. Ask a local plumber what would happen if someone took his truck and all the tools used for the trade.
To Donate to Michael Brown's Family Expense Fund:
This is the only official website for the Michael Brown Legal Defense Fund & Family Expense Fund.
We use PayPal to collect donations (via credit card or paypal account) because they offer secure transactions, they have a fair reputation for online monetary transactions, and are a well known, trusted third-party.
The personal information that is collected as part of your donation process will be kept strictly confidential and will not be shared with anybody. We hate junk e-mail too!
If you wish to remain anonymous, consider BitCoin or TimeKoin as a way to donate via digital currency.
If you are not comfortable with electronic donations, please consider sending a check to our 107 Cadet Circle, Franklin, TN 37064 payable to either Michael Brown and / or Kathryn Brown. Any check donations received will be deposited at a local Regions Bank into accounts controlled by a local attorney with the distributions to my defense or family on an as-needed basis.
2013 Press Release
Suspected 'hacker' who demanded $1 million in Bitcoins from Mitt Romney caught and charge
by Adrianne Jeffries
Jul 1, 2013, 12:28pm EDT
Michael Mancil Brown, who allegedly called himself "Dr. Evil" on the internet, has been charged with six counts of extortion and six counts of wire fraud for attempting to extract $1 million in Bitcoins from Mitt Romney. During the election season, an anonymous "hacker" claimed to have gotten hold of the presidential candidate's tax forms by sneaking into his accountant's office. The hacker threatened to release the private documents if Romney didn't pay up. It didn't work. There is no evidence that Brown actually possessed the documents, which were a major subject of scrutiny during the campaign; the government claims Brown made the whole thing up. The original ransom note, posted on Pastebin.com, is no longer available.
2016 Press Release
Michael Mancil Brown, purported Romney hacker, sentenced over 2012 cyber stunt
By Andrew Blake - 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.