A former IRS consultant was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday for leaking tax information about “thousands of the nation’s wealthiest individuals” to news outlets between 2018 and 2020.
Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty in October to one count of unauthorized disclosure of tax return and return information after reaching a plea agreement with government prosecutors.
The Justice Department did not name the news outlets or individuals whose tax information was disclosed, though the description and timeline of Littlejohn’s actions coincided with reporting in The New York Times and ProPublica about former President Trump’s tax returns. In his court filings, Littlejohn confirmed he sent the records to those outlets.
The New York Times published a story titled “Long-concealed records show Trump’s chronic losses and years of tax avoidance” on Sept. 27, 2020 — the same day prosecutors say the first article linked to Littlejohn’s leaks was published.
The second outlet, which Littlejohn indicated is ProPublica, published nearly 50 articles beginning in June 2021 based on the tax return information Littlejohn disclosed, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors requested a five-year sentence for Littlejohn, purporting he applied to work with the IRS with the intention of accessing and disclosing tax returns.
“Defendant weaponized his access to unmasked taxpayer data to further his own personal, political agenda, believing that he was above the law,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
The Justice Department also said that while a free press and public engagement with media are “critical to any healthy democracy,” the “stealing and leaking” of private tax information “strips individuals of the legal protection of their most sensitive data.”
Littlejohn said in court filings that he should receive a lesser sentence for cooperating with the government and admitting to stealing the records and providing them to reporters.
“He committed this offense out of a deep, moral belief that the American people had a right to know the information and sharing it was the only way to effect change,” his lawyer, Lisa Manning, wrote in a sentencing memo. “He did what he thought was right at the time, but now fully acknowledges that he was wrong.”
The Associated Press contributed.