A sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building is seen...

A sign outside the Internal Revenue Service building is seen on May 4, 2021, in Washington. A former contractor for the Internal Revenue Service has been charged with leaking tax information to news outlets about a government official and thousands of the country’s wealthiest people. The Justice Department said in a statement Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, that 38-year-old Charles Edward Littlejohn of Washington, D.C. is accused of stealing tax return information and giving it to two different news outlets between 2018 and 2020. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

WASHINGTON — A former contractor for the Internal Revenue Service was charged Friday with leaking tax information to news outlets about thousands of the country's wealthiest people.

Charles Edward Littlejohn, 38, of Washington, D.C., is accused of stealing the tax return information and giving it to two news outlets between 2018 and 2020, the Justice Department said in a statement. Littlejohn declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press, which also left a message for his attorney, Lisa Manning.

Both organizations published numerous articles about the tax information, some of which dated back more than 15 years, charging documents state.

The outlets are not named in charging documents, but the description and time frame align with stories about former President Donald Trump's tax returns in The New York Times and reporting about wealthy Americans' taxes in the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

The 2020 New York Times report found Trump paid $750 in federal income tax the year he entered the White House and no income tax at all some years thanks to colossal losses. Six years of his returns were later released by the then-Democratically controlled House Ways and Means Committee.

The newspaper declined to comment.

ProPublica reported in 2021 on a trove of tax-return data about the wealthiest Americans. It found the 25 richest people legally pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than many ordinary workers do.

A spokesman for the outlet declined to comment on the charges, adding that ProPublica reporters have previously said they don’t know the identity of the source. The stories sparked calls for reform and for an investigation into the leak of tax information, which has specific legal protections.

Littlejohn is charged with one count of unauthorized disclosure of tax returns and return information. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The IRS declined to comment specifically on the case, but Commissioner Danny Werfel said “any disclosure of taxpayer information is unacceptable" and the agency has since tightened security.

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Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein contributed to this story.

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