Want to read Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's old tax returns?
An anonymous online poster claims to have them, without offering any proof, and says he will either release or suppress them depending on who pays him $1 million first.
In a Pastebin message posted yesterday (Sept. 4) and addressed to the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, an unnamed writer states, "All major news media outlets are going to be sent an encrypted copy of the most recent tax years that your company had on file since you did not have them all in a convenient electronic form.
"The years before 2010 will be of great interest to many. If the parties interested do not want the encrypted key released to the public to unlock these documents on September 28 of this year then payment will be necessary."
It sounds like something Austin Powers' nemesis Dr. Evil would cook up, but local media reports in Tennessee say that the Secret Service has gotten involved.
Romney has refused to release his tax returns from before 2010. Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he'd heard that Romney did not pay taxes for 10 years, but that allegation has never been substantiated.
Breaking and entering
A Pastebin message posted Sunday (Sept. 2) detailed a break-in at a PricewaterhouseCoopers office in Franklin, Tenn., last month, during which Romney's tax records were purportedly copied.
"Romney's 1040 tax returns were taken from the PWC office 8/25/2012 by gaining access to the third floor via a gentleman working on the 3rd floor of the building," the earlier posting says. "Once on the 3rd floor, the team moved down the stairs to the 2nd floor and setup shop in an empty office room. During the night, suite 260 was entered, and all available 1040 tax forms for Romney were copied."
PricewaterhouseCoopers, which according to media reports prepared Romney's 2010 tax returns, would neither confirm nor deny the incident.
"We are aware of the allegations that have been made regarding improper access to our systems," a company spokeswoman said via email. "We are working closely with the United States Secret Service, and at this time there is no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question."
There is no proof that both Pastebin posts were written by the same person, no evidence offered to show that the writers indeed have Romney's returns and no explanation of why Romney's returns would be kept at a regional office in a state in which he has never lived.
The first posting states that copies of the returns had been copied to flash drives and sent to the Franklin PricewaterhouseCoopers office as well as the Democratic and Republican party offices "in the county."
It's not clear if "the county" refers to Williamson County, in which Franklin sits, or to Davidson County just to the north, where Nashville is.
However, the Nashville Tennessean reported earlier today that the Democratic and Republican party offices in Williamson County received strange packages last week containing flash drives.
Jean Barwick, executive director of the Williamson County GOP, said the package had come Friday but that she initially thought it was a hoax.
"A million dollars seemed kind of low," Barwick told the Tennessean. "If you’re going to go for a million, why not go for $100 million."
The Nashville City Paper reported today that the Secret Service had seized the flash drives from both the Democratic and Republican offices in Williamson County.
"We opened [the envelope] and found a typewritten sheet of paper," county Democratic chairman Peter Burr told the City Paper. "I almost threw it out. The only thing missing was a Nigerian prince. It seems like it's someone looking for some gullible fool, but who knows?"
The first posting made no mention of encrypted files or a ransom demand; instead, it just said that "the group will release all available files to the public on the 28 of September, 2012."
It also provided a code phrase it said was on all sent packages: "All these considerations did not deter me from the path of duty."
That's a reference to the memoirs of one of the earliest Mormons, Heber C. Kimball, who led the first mission to England to gain British converts and bring them to America. Among those British converts was Mitt Romney's great-great-grandfather.
The second posting, by contrast, is more mercenary, and demands payment in the untraceable electronic currency Bitcoin.
"The deal is quite simple. Convert $1,000,000 USD to Bitcoins (Google it if you need a lesson on what Bitcoin is) using the various markets available out in the world for buying. Transfer the Bitcoins gathered to the Bitcoin address listed below," it says before giving an encrypted key. "The keys to unlock the data will be purged and whatever is inside the documents will remain a secret forever."
Anyone who wants them released before Sept. 28 can also pay $1 million in Bitcoins.
"Whoever is the winner does not matter to us," the second posting says.