08/21/2012 01:18 pm ET Updated Oct 21, 2012

Did Mitt Romney Commit a Crime Punishable by Prison?

On August 17th, Britain's Telegraph (which is perhaps the world's best daily newspaper) published a stunning investigative news report by Jon Swaine, which alleged that when Mitt Romney was Governor of Massachussetts, he "profited from a marketing company that was contracted by the state," and which was controlled by Paul Ryan's brother, Tobin Ryan, who had been an employee of Bain consulting (Bain & Company), who had left Bain to start a company that was financed by $5 million from Bain Capital, which Mitt Romney owned and still owns. "Both Mr Romney and Tobin Ryan ... also apparently stood to benefit from the $230 million ... sale of the [Ryan] company in 2005, while Mr. Romney remained in office" as Governor. Romney's having not divested himself of his financial interest in Ryan's company while that company was hired by the state "could have resulted in a $2,000 ... fine or a 2.5-year prison sentence. The potential punishments are now stronger. Asked repeatedly by The Daily Telegraph throughout this week whether Mr Romney had indeed profited from the company, had been aware of the potential conflict of interest, or had taken any action to avoid one, his campaign and Bain Capital declined to comment."

Tobin Ryan was a senior manager at Bain & Company when he started his firm in 1998, and he and his partner obtained the $5 million Bain Capital funding in June 2000. Then, "In December 2001, Imagitas [Ryan's company] secured a contract with Wisconsin, whose then-governor, Scott McCallum, was a political ally of Paul Ryan ... Imagitas announced a similar partnership with Massachussets in July 2002, shortly before Mr Romney was elected as the state's Republican governor." Then, the firm was sold in 2005.

Under Massachussetts law, Governor Romney was required to report the possible conflict-of-interest here, and could have applied for an exemption that would have freed him from possible restrictions on actions regarding Imagitas. But, apparently, he did neither, and so his winnings from the sale of the Imagitas might be subject to legal scrutiny.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.