&l;p&g;&l;img class=&q;dam-image ap size-large wp-image-78aada0dbd01463ca8849bf207f5bdd8&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/78aada0dbd01463ca8849bf207f5bdd8/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;665&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Jordan Hamlett, left, leaves federal court with his attorney Michael Fiser, following his guilty plea in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Last December, Jordan Hamlett, of Sunset, Louisiana, &l;a href=&q;https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdla/pr/private-investigator-who-attempted-illegally-obtain-presidents-federal-tax-information&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;pleaded guilty&l;/a&g; to false representation of a Social Security number. The Social Security number in question belonged to President Donald Trump. This week, Hamlett finally learned the consequences of his actions: He&s;s going to jail.
As part of the plea, Hamlett admitted that, in the fall of 2016, just before the presidential elections, he initiated an online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (&q;FAFSA&q;) by using Trump&a;rsquo;s identifying information, including his Social Security number and his date of birth. Once Hamlett had opened the application, he attempted to access the President&s;s federal income tax information at least six times through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). As part of those efforts, he used a made-up email address (firstname.lastname@example.org)&a;nbsp;while&a;nbsp;falsely declaring that the President&a;rsquo;s Social Security number was, in fact, his own.
Months later, the DRT was &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/03/10/irs-temporarily-shuts-down-tool-used-to-complete-fafsa/#6846d4f47450&q;&g;made unavailable&l;/a&g; on student&a;nbsp;financial aid websites, fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov. At the time, the IRS noted that it was working to resolve a security issue but &q;the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.&q;
The DRT is a free service which allows students to automatically transfer tax data from a taxpayer&s;s federal tax return directly to a FAFSA form,&a;nbsp;making applying for financial aid faster and easier. The DRT had been available to families since the 2009-10 school year. You can read how the tool works &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2012/08/16/irs-offers-tool-to-help-students-with-financial-aid/#147b7a8eace9&q;&g;here&l;/a&g;.
When the DRT was initially taken down in March of 2017, the IRS &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/03/30/citing-privacy-concerns-irs-fsa-announce-financial-aid-tool-will-remain-offline/#53f26adf7fe6&q;&g;characterized&l;/a&g; it &q;as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves.&q; The IRS subsequently clarified that &q;dentity thieves may have used personal information obtained outside the tax system to access the FAFSA form in an attempt to secure tax information through the DRT.&q; In April of 2017, then IRS Commissioner Koskinen &l;a&g;testified&l;/a&g; during a Senate Finance Committee hearing that &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/04/07/irs-says-up-to-100000-taxpayers-potentially-affected-in-student-loan-tool-breach/&q;&g;potentially 100,000 taxpayers&l;/a&g; were affected by the DRT access attempt.
The DRT&a;nbsp;has since been made available to use with the 2018-19 FAFSA form. The Department of Education &l;a href=&q;https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/about/announcements/irs-drt-unavailable&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;has noted&l;/a&g; that &q;additional security and privacy protections have been added to address concerns that data from the tool could be used by identity thieves to file fraudulent tax returns.&q; The DRT is not usable for the 2017&a;ndash;18 FAFSA form.
It was alleged – though not publicly addressed by authorities – that Hamlett&s;s activities tipped the IRS off to the problems with the DRT. In 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration noted in a hearing that it had &q;detected an attempted access to the AGI of a prominent individual.&q; Emails to TIGTA and IRS&a;nbsp;inquiring about the validity of those accusations were not returned.
Hamlett, a private investigator, had &l;a href=&q;https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-fight-over-jordan-hamletts-hack-of-trumps-tax-returns&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;initially argued&l;/a&g; that he was a &q;white hat hacker&q; – more or less a tech geek who breaks into computer systems to expose vulnerabilities. In court filings, Hamlett alleged that he had attempted to warn the IRS about security issues with the FAFSA service but could not reach a real person by phone.
Prosecutors, however, tried to paint Hamlett as a criminal hoping to benefit from a potential payday in seizing the tax documents that everyone seems to want to get their hands on. Breaking with tradition, Trump refused to make his returns public, initially claiming that the returns were &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2016/02/26/trump-wont-release-tax-returns-citing-irs-audit-is-it-a-legitimate-excuse/#50353bbd736c&q;&g;under audit&l;/a&g;. The President later doubled-down with spokesperson Kellyanne Conway &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/02/14/update-trump-tax-petition-hits-three-quarter-million-mark-still-climbing/#7ba7b8b054b3&q;&g;declaring&l;/a&g; that &q;The White House response is that he&a;rsquo;s not going to release his tax returns.&q;
Since that time, Trump&s;s federal income tax returns have remained private. When Koskinen was asked whether he had seen Trump&s;s tax returns, he said that he had not because he was not allowed to – even as the then IRS Commissioner. Safeguards are in place to keep federal employees from browsing, inspecting or making disclosures about taxpayer records (read more &l;a href=&q;https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/04/13/can-the-irs-commissioner-peek-at-trumps-tax-return-or-yours/#7bd84f672db7&q;&g;here&l;/a&g;).
With&a;nbsp;interest in the President&s;s returns still high, Hamlett was indicted after allegedly admitting to federal agents that he had attempted to accept the returns. According to court documents, Hamlett agreed that the idea to access the returns through the federal aid website was &q;genius.&q; He sounded, according to testimony from the agents, &q;proud&q; of having concocted the scheme, though he did not indicate at the time what his motivation for attempting to access the tax returns might be.
Many of the related court documents are under seal, so we may never know why Hamlett attempted to access the records. We do know that Hamlett will pay for the attempt. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John deGravelles &l;a href=&q;https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdla/pr/private-investigator-receives-18-month-prison-sentence-illegally-using-presidents&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;sentenced him&l;/a&g; to 18 months in prison, plus two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $14,794.96 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education and a $100 special assessment.
&q;The protection of confidential taxpayer information is among the most important responsibilities of the Internal Revenue Service and my agency,&q; said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration about the matter. &q;Mr. Hamlett&a;rsquo;s sentencing should serve as a reminder to those who attempt to steal sensitive taxpayer information that they will be held accountable.&q;&l;/p&g;