A veteran IRS employee was formally indicted Thursday on charges that he leaked banking records of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, to Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, in May of last year.
John C. Fry, 54, faces one count of unauthorized disclosure of so-called suspicious activity reports (SARs), one count of misuse of a computer and one count of illegal use of a Social Security number. He was arraigned last week in federal court in San Francisco and released on $50,000 bond.
Prosecutors say Fry, an investigative analyst for the IRS’ law enforcement arm who has worked for the agency since 2008, repeatedly searched law enforcement databases for information about Cohen and eventually gained access to five SARs, which banks must file when transactions are spotted that raise questions about possible financial misconduct.
One of the SARs, which investigators say Fry admitted leaking to Avenatti, showed Cohen’s Essential Consultants LLC had received a total of $500,000 from Columbus Nova, a company associated with Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch who donated money to Trump’s inauguration fund. Other payments to Essential Consultants came from AT&T ($200,000) and pharmaceutical company Novartis (approximately $399,920).
The report was filed by First Republic Bank, where Essential Consultants maintained an account. Avenatti made the information in the report public on May 8, and details from it appeared in The Washington Post and the New Yorker magazine.
Investigators say Fry exchanged messages on WhatsApp with reporter Ronan Farrow, who wrote about the motives behind the leak in an article published May 16. Farrow’s article said the law enforcement official who released the report had grown concerned after he was unable to find two other reports on Cohen’s financial activity and worried the missing data might indicate an effort to cover up payments.
In an affidavit filed last week, Treasury Department Special Agent Linda Cieslak said that access to the two reports that concerned Fry was restricted because they were connected to a “sensitive open investigation.” Fry allegedly also told investigators Farrow contacted him to verify information given to him by Avenatti.
Fry faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $750,000 if convicted on all counts. His next court appearance is scheduled for March 13.