Former IRS Contractor Will Go To Jail For Disclosing Trump’s Tax Returns

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A former IRS contractor has been sentenced to five years in prison for disclosing thousands of tax returns—including Donald Trump’s tax returns—without authorization.

“Charles Littlejohn abused his position as a consultant at the Internal Revenue Service by disclosing thousands of Americans’ federal tax returns and other private financial information to news organizations. He violated his responsibility to safeguard the sensitive information that was entrusted to his care, and now he is a convicted felon,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The sentence, Argentieri says, “sends a strong message that those who violate laws intended to protect sensitive tax information will face significant punishment.”

In October of 2023, Littlejohn pleaded guilty to unauthorized disclosure of tax return and return information—a violation of section 7213(a)(1) of the tax code, the most serious offense for leaking tax information. Littlejohn had faced—and was sentenced to—the maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Littlejohn was initially charged on information on Sept. 29, 2023, with one count of disclosing tax return information without authorization. Generally, being charged on information means that a defendant has pleaded guilty and waived the right to an indictment—that’s what appears to have happened here.

According to court documents, from about 2017 to 2021, Littlejohn was employed as a government contractor for an unnamed consulting firm that serviced public and private clients. As part of his job, he worked on contracts that the firm had obtained through the IRS. The returns and return information were disclosed to Littlejohn for “purposes of tax administration.”

From 2018 to 2020, Littlejohn stole tax returns and return information associated with a person referred to in court documents as “Public Official A.” According to prosecutors, Littlejohn viewed Public Official A as “dangerous and a threat to democracy” and had intended to provide private tax information to the public. Public Official A was not initially named in court documents but was widely assumed to be former President Donald Trump. Littlejohn’s sentencing memorandum confirmed this to be true.

Littlejohn disclosed the tax information associated with Public Official A to a media outlet initially described as “News Organization 1” in documents. In September 2020, News Organization 1 published a series of articles about Public Official A’s tax returns. Based on the timing and nature of its reporting, it appeared to be The New York Times. In the sentencing memorandum, Littlejohn’s attorneys noted that he “resolved that if he decided to disclose the Trump tax data, he would go to the Times.” The memorandum further confirmed that between May 2019 and August 2019, Littlejohn engaged in multiple discussions, including in-person meetings, with New York Times reporters about how they would handle the security of and reporting on the Trump tax records if he disclosed them. In August 2019, Littlejohn turned over a copy of Trump’s tax information that he stole from the IRS database. Over the next year, he also helped the New York Times analyze the tax data and stole more records.

Court documents also reveal that Littlejohn turned over returns and return information dating back more than 15 years covering thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people to “News Organization 2.” He provided the data by mailing it to News Organization 2 on a password-protected personal data storage device. The data contained not only tax returns, but also investments, stock trades, gambling winnings, audit determinations, and many other types of financial material.

News Organization 2, which was not specifically named in the charges, published over 50 articles using the stolen data. That appeared to match reporting by Pro Publica in 2021, a fact confirmed in the sentencing memorandum.

Littlejohn accessed the returns on an IRS database after using broad search parameters designed to conceal the true purpose of his queries. He then evaded IRS protocols established to detect and prevent large downloads or uploads from IRS devices or systems before saving the tax returns to multiple personal storage devices, including an iPod.

At the plea hearing on Oct. 12, 2023, the Court emphasized that “people taking the law into their own hands for any purpose is unacceptable,” and “it’s not up to any individual person to decide what law they want to violate or what law they want to follow.” The government argued for the maximum sentence, citing the gravity of the offense and the numerous aggravating factors in this case.

Defense attorneys noted that Littlejohn (“Chaz” to his close friends) grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was five years old, and both soon remarried, resulting in visitation arrangements characterized as “disruptive.” Nonetheless, Littlejohn excelled in school, ultimately ending up at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating with a B.A. in Economics (summa cum laude) and a B.A. in Physics.

Over the years, Littlejohn developed certain ideas about tax and equality. When he made the disclosures, he “believed at the time that disclosing the information would benefit society and could bring about positive change.”

The Court disagreed that his motivations should result in a punishment on the lower end of the scale, sentencing Littlejohn to the maximum: five years in jail, followed by three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a fine in the amount of $5,000.00.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) investigated the case.

“This sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who is considering emulating Mr. Littlejohn’s actions,” said TIGTA Acting Inspector General Heather Hill. “TIGTA relentlessly investigates individuals who illicitly access and disclose taxpayer information, regardless of their personal motivation. TIGTA appreciates the commitment of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in ensuring those who abuse their positions of public trust are held accountable for their actions.”



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