Thursday, August 15, 2019

IRS analyst pleads guilty to leaking Michael Cohen’s financial records

An Internal Revenue Service analyst pleaded guilty Wednesday to illegally disclosing sensitive financial records about President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, in a leak case stemming from the Justice Department’s investigations of those close to the president.
John Fry, who had worked as an investigative analyst with the IRS in San Francisco, entered his plea in federal court there. Fry was charged in February with the unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports, or SARs. Such reports are meant to flag potentially unlawful financial conduct to government investigators but do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing.
Fry pleaded guilty to one count. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December. The crime carries a possible prison term of up to five years.
“John Fry was given access to sensitive and powerful government databases containing people’s private financial information,” said David L. Anderson, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco. “And he was given that access in order to do his job as an investigative analyst. Fry thought that his politics were more important than his obligation to follow the law, and in that he was mistaken.”
Prosecutors say Fry shared the reports about Cohen with Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who rose to national prominence representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in litigation arising from her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump more than a decade ago. Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for financial crimes, including arranging hush-money payments to Daniels and another woman who also alleged an affair with Trump. The president has denied both women’s claims.
Avenatti was charged earlier this year in two separate, unrelated cases in which authorities accused him of stealing money from his clients and attempting to extort millions of dollars from Nike, the sports apparel giant. He has denied the charges.
Officials say Avenatti took Fry’s information and made it public by posting it on social media.
Fry’s is not the only case in which a government employee has been charged with the crime of disclosing sensitive government documents related to figures of interest in the now-shuttered investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel.
Last year, a senior Treasury Department official was charged with giving a journalist the details from suspicious activity reports involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates of the president.
In the Fry case, prosecutors said his disclosures prompted news reports by The Washington Post and the New Yorker.
Authorities say that on May 4, 2018, Fry used his access to a government database to look up five SARs on Cohen and called Avenatti “immediately after downloading” the documents.
A May 8 article published by The Post and based on information provided by Avenatti traced the flows of money into and out of Essential Consultants, a limited-liability company Cohen used, in part, to arrange a hush-money payment for Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
That transaction led to Cohen’s pleading guilty to the charge of violating campaign finance law.

After Fry was charged, Avenatti insisted that he and a reporter at the New Yorker did nothing wrong or illegal, adding on Twitter: “And if we did (we didn’t), then every reporter in America would be jailed and unable to do their job.”

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