United States v. Brown, No. 16-6291 (6th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Sixth Circuit upholds allowing jury questions in online extortion case.
Using the pseudonym “Dr. Evil,” an extortionist demanded $1 million in Bitcoin in exchange for an encryption key to Mitt Romney’s unreleased tax returns, which he claimed to have stolen from an accounting firm. He posted an image of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil, from an Austin Powers movie, in the accounting firm’s Franklin, Tennessee office lobby. Agents traced the scheme to Brown, who had not actually stolen Romney’s returns. With 12 convictions for wire fraud and extortion, Brown was given a four-year prison sentence, and ordered to pay restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting arguments that the search warrant lacked probable cause and that Brown was prejudiced by the judge allowing questions from the jury. The affidavit offered “a fair probability” that Brown’s home would contain evidence of the crime. Understanding the evidence required the jury to grasp the Secret Service’s forensic analysis of thumb drives, online posts, and Brown’s computers, Bitcoin, fingerprint matching, and digital photo manipulation-- enough complexity for a court to believe that permitting questions might aid jurors. The court vacated the sentence. Brown’s statements to prosecutors did not significantly impede the investigation, to justify the obstruction of justice enhancement.