The Secret Service said Wednesday it is investigating the claimed theft of copies of Mitt Romney's federal tax records before 2010 from a Tennessee office.
Naming a million-dollar price, an anonymous ransom note was sent to Romney's accountants, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, NPR reported. The letter, which was also posted online, declares: "Using your office ... we were able to gain access to your network file servers and copy over the tax documents for one Willard M. Romney and Ann D. Romney."
The note's author signs off with a perky "Cheers!"
The break-in supposedly took place Aug. 25 at a Pricewaterhouse Coopers office in Franklin, Tenn., outside Nashville, the Associated Press reported. The financial services firm responded on Twitter Wednesday: "We are working with the Secret Service. At this time, there is no evidence of unauthorized access to our data."
And on Facebook, Pricewaterhouse stated that it had found "no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question."
The Romney campaign directed press inquiries to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Politico reported.
Police have no record of a break-in at the accounting firm's office in the past month, the Tennessean of Nashville reported. But the newspaper said packages containing ransom information and flash memory drives were delivered to the Williamson County offices of both parties, neither of which tried to access the data, instead turning it over to authorities.
Also included in the packages, according to the ransom letter, was an image of Romney's signature from the 1040 tax return documents.
A Tennessee Republican official, Jean Barwick, confirmed she received the letter and an encrypted flash drive and said she turned them over to the Secret Service. But she could not confirm that copies of any tax returns were stored on the drive.
Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan confirmed the agency is investigating.
"The deal is quite simple. Convert $1,000,000 USD to Bitcoins," the letter states, according to NPR. "It does not matter if small amounts or one large amount is transferred, as long as the final value of the Bitcoins is equal to $1,000,000 USD at the time when it is finished. The keys to unlock the data will be purged and whatever is inside the documents will remain a secret forever."
The money is due by Sept. 28, according to the note.
Party officials in Tennessee were skeptical.
"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."
Williamson Democratic Party spokesman Gary Moore called the scheme "preposterous" but admitted that the coordinated deliveries might make the threat more believable.
In separate phone interviews with the Wall Street Journal, Barwick, executive director of the Republican Party in Williamson County, and Peter Burr, chairman of the county's Democratic Party, described receiving virtually identical packages that were dropped off at their party offices late Thursday or early Friday morning when no one was around.
In both cases, the hand-delivered, manila, padded envelopes with no postage contained a note, a SanDisk thumb drive and some kind of copied version of Mitt Romney signature.
"There was an extortion letter saying people had hacked into Pricewaterhouse computers and had acquired 20 years of Mitt Romney's tax returns and for a million dollars we could stop that from going public,'' said Ms. Barwick of the letter she found Friday morning when she arrived at the office. She said she thought it was a prank and dumped the envelope in a desk drawer.
She called her state party office to see if they'd received anything similar, but didn't hear back because they were all at the party convention in Tampa, Fla.
"When I picked it up and looked at it, I didn't think it was credible, but who knows what perverse things motivate people to do things,'' she said. She was later contacted by the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Burr said he received the drive on Aug. 30 and immediately dismissed the package as a joke.
"I was thinking this thing very possibly has viruses on it," told Politico. "The last thing I want to do is trash our computer."
He didn't take it seriously until the Secret Service called to come pick it up.
Burr said he received a phone call from a Secret Service agent on Wednesday morning after county GOP officials reported their drive to the authorities. But he lost his chance to have a look when he handed over the documents.
"I asked them if they would be able to get back to us and let us know if anything came of it from their end and they said 'no,'" he said.
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