(Bloomberg) -- A former Internal Revenue Service contractor who stole and leaked the tax returns of former President Donald Trump, Ken Griffin, Elon Musk and other billionaires was sentenced to five years in prison.
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Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty Oct. 12 to stealing Trump’s tax data from the IRS and leaking it to the New York Times. He also admitted taking tax information about thousands of other wealthy Americans, including Jeff Bezos, that he passed to ProPublica. The judge called it the biggest heist in IRS history and “an intolerable attack on our constitutional democracy.”
US District Judge Ana Reyes imposed the maximum sentence on Littlejohn, who had said in court papers that he acted out of “a deep, moral belief” that Americans had a right to know the information, and sharing it was the only way to change a tax system that favors the wealthy.
“He targeted the sitting president of the United States of America and that is exceptional by any matter,” Reyes said at a hearing Monday in Washington. “When you target the office of the president, you target democracy.”
In a recent memo to the court, Littlejohn’s lawyers said he expressed remorse for his actions, saying they had “had undermined the IRS, breached the public trust, and violated the privacy of thousands of American taxpayers.”
Littlejohn was alarmed when Trump took office in 2017 and refused to make his tax records public, they wrote. He was hired by an IRS consultant and vowed to “try to access the President’s tax returns if given the opportunity,” they said.
Reyes said his motivations were a poor excuse for breaking the law.
“I believe you sincerely felt a moral imperative,” the judge said. “I have thought deeply about your motivations and I also want to deter others who might have felt a moral obligation to break the law.”
Court records show Littlejohn took elaborate steps to steal 15 years of Trump’s tax records and cover his tracks before he met with New York Times reporters. He first gave the tax data to the Times in August 2019, helping reporters analyze the data and then stole additional tax records, records show.
The sentence “sends a strong message that those who violate laws intended to protect sensitive tax information will face significant punishment,” Nicole M. Argentieri, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said in a statement.
In September 2020 — weeks before Trump lost the election to Joe Biden — the Times published the first of several stories, revealing the former president paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and nothing in 10 of the previous 15 years.
Read More: Tax Return Thief Who Took Trump, Griffin Data Pleads Guilty
In 2020, Littlejohn also stole data on the top 500 taxpayers by income for the previous 15 years, later leaking it to ProPublica. It reported that billionaires including Bezos and Musk had in some years paid minimal or no income tax even as their fortunes soared. Michael Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, was among those included in the reporting.
Griffin has sued the IRS over the data leaks. According to ProPublica, he reported an average annual income of almost $1.7 billion between 2013 and 2018 and paid an average federal tax rate of 29.2%. Griffin has a net worth of $36.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Littlejohn served several stints at the IRS while working as a contractor for an unidentified consulting firm over approximately 15 years.
The case is US v. Littlejohn, 23-cr-00343, US District Court, District of Columbia.
(Updates with Justice Department statement in 10th paragraph.)
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