Secret Service investigates Franklin man - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Secret Service investigates Franklin man in Romney tax return theft

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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.

Brown and his attorney have set up a website, explaining his side of things. To view it, visit:

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