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Crime and Prisoner Law News

Ben of Ben & Jerry IceCream fame publicly confesses to money defacement conspiracy. What can be the sentences?

by George Hook on 02/20/15

Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream fame has formed StampStampede.org which sells stamping devices and accessories the purpose of which is to cause others to deface US currency with slogans such as “Stamp Money Out of Politics,” “Not To Be Used For Buying Elections,”  “Not To Be Used For Buying Politicians” to protest Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United v. FEC, Supreme Court cases which “allowed rich groups to give unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections, [so] we’ve become a government of, by, and for the 1 percent.”  In so doing, has Ben subjected himself and his prospective minions to federal criminal prosecution under 18 USC 333, which provides: “Whoever…defaces, disfigures, or…does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”  Therefore, were Ben’s currency defacement confined to the stamping he committed on national television before David Faber of CNBC a few days ago, his sentence could not exceed six months for each of the bills he then stamped. But Ben said he is doing and intends to do much more. What Ben says he  is doing and proposes to do appears to violate 18 USC 371, which provides: “If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

“If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.” Since the maximum statutory sentence for the underlying offense of defacing US currency is six months, the underlying offense is a Class B misdemeanor.  So does that mean just up to six months’ federal incarceration for each member of the conspiracy, easily identified from the StampStampede website as The Stampede Team—Ben Cohen, Chief Stamper, Edward Erikson, Campaign Manager, Virginia Choi, Digital Media Strategist, James Earle, Outreach Coordinator,

Aaron Rubin, Stamp Mobile Operator, Ashley Lynch, Office Manager, Paul Brochu, Lead Organizer, New Hampshire, David Holt, Organizer, New Hampshire, Liz Iacobucci, Press Secretary, New Hampshire.   There is also a Board of Advisers, consisting of Matthew MacWilliams, President, MacWillams Sanders Communications, Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way,            Michael Leon Guerrero, National Coordinator, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Anna Burger, Advisory Board Chair, AmericaWorks, Jo Comerford,  Executive Director, National Priorities Project, Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen, and David Cobb, Move to Amend National Leadership Team, and, of course, a Board of Directors, whose members are, in addition to Ben, BoRichard Foos — CEO & Co-Founder, Shout! Factory, Danny Goldberg —CEO, GoldVe Entertainment, Dal LaMagna (Secretary of PPI) —CEO IceStoneUSA, and Judy Wicks – Founder, White Dog CafĂ©.   Each and all are at risk of such prosecution.  Purchasers of their stamping devices would not be deemed conspirators under federal law so their criminality would commence upon their individual, independent defacement of currency. Unfortunately, for each such stamper, the penalty could be up to six months’ incarceration for each separate stamping, as the Sentencing Guidelines suggest:

“§1B1.9. Class B… Misdemeanors…Commentary/Application Notes: 2. The guidelines for sentencing on multiple counts do not apply to counts that are Class B…misdemeanors…. Sentences for such offenses may be consecutive to or concurrent with sentences imposed on other counts. In imposing sentence, the court should, however, consider the relationship between the Class B misdemeanor or infraction and any other offenses of which the defendant is convicted.”

Unfortunately, for Ben and each of his fellow conspirators, what The Stampede Team will be doing is also described in 18 USC 2:

“(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.”

Since defacing US currency is indubitably “an offense against the US” the defense against sections 2 and 371 that I have suggested for those offenses when clearly not “against the US” would not be available. So every stamping by every stamper whom The Stampede Team “aids, abets, counsels, induces, procures” “or willfully causes an act to be done” constitutes each of them a principal to each such stamping and subjects each of them to the potential of a a six month sentence along with each such stamper.  That could amount a whole lot of consecutive six month sentences and years of incarceration! Furthermore, since each offense is a misdemeanor, each prosecutor in each jurisdiction where a stamping occurred could proceed by Information rather than Indictment so to avoid grand jury vetting or nullification, to the extent the grand jury has not become just another rubber stamp itself.  By their own calculation, The Stampede Team members could each be facing a minimum of (6 months X 30,000 stampers)  180,000 months’ or 1500 years’ incarceration.  Too much to be happen? Perhaps, at a time when there are three initiatives to reduce the federal prison population, described hereinabove left as the Resurrection Project.  But a couple months to a couple years for the defacement instigators would not make much of a difference.  And what about fines and restitution?  While their crime is not “money laundering,” that would be the remedy for their misdeeds.  Surely, Ben and his co-conspirators could handle $30,000, representing one stamp of $1 by each of those 30,000 claimed stampers, the number ever rising according to the continuing public confession they constantly update on their StampStampede.org website.   But what of $30,000,000 if each of those 30,000 stampers stamps 10 $100 bills? And what of the amount if their Stampede really becomes one? 

Ben has claimed that he has a legal opinion to the effect that none of what he is doing and contemplates is a crime.  Actually, what he has is a memo from a lawyer, which you may access if you go to https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0200/0202/files/bill-stamping-memo1-120924021319-phpapp02.pdf?3995. Its underpinning is that the stamper does not intend to render the money unfit for reissue and therefore does not meet an element of the crime.  Let me posit the scenario where a person tenders a stamped bill to a prospective recipient who refuses to accept it on the ground that its defacement destroys it as “legal tender for all debts public and private,” a scenario not unlikely to end in controversy and involvement of one or more forms of law enforcement.  The memo also addresses liability under 18 USC 475 and concludes that since the stamping does not have a commercial purpose, that statute is not violated. That’s too limiting an interpretation, however, as the section also prohibits many things other than advertisements, for example “any notice..whatever.”  The only good news is that the violation of this section involves only a fine under 18 USC 3571(d), possibly being twice the gross loss to every person other than the defendants, i.e. the Treasury’s extraordinary expenditure for earlier replacement, easily computed by the Treasury, no doubt, and the loss to every recipient however incurred from the difficulties of accepting defaced tenders or not, perhaps, not so easily computed by the many prosecutors of all the venues that could have jurisdiction. 

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HEADLINE NEWS--Protesting across the Nation against the Ferguson Grand Jury’s Decision not to indict Whitie Wilson, Arms Ups (mostly Whites) added chokehold victim’s “I can’t breathe” to their repertoire following a New York Grand Jury’s Decision not to indict Whitie Pantaleo, both Whities having acted in the line of duty as police officers; Wilson to prevent his gun being taken in Robber Brown’s assault; Pantaleo while enforcing arrest against cigarette tax scuff law Garner, whose constant hawking before their taxed and licenced shops caused the owners’ snitching.  Given the failure to purpose of the Missouri Prosecutor, the New York Prosecutor did not attempt to demonstrate the bona fides of his Grand Jury’s decision with like disclosures of extensive documentation and deliberation.  Garner’s wife has been commended for publicly stating that his “unjustified murder” was not “a black and white thing,” but rather his constant misbehavior under the State cigarette tax stamp law.  Doubtless, no one believes that death is an appropriate punishment for such a violation, constant or not, and only the racially biased would believe that Pantaleo could have intended to impose any such punishment upon Garner’s arrest, but cigarette tax stamp laws are taken very seriously, even by the Fed, for which read the exciting tale of Rolemand Smokzem, who has his own chapter in Marking Time, pp.334-363, with dire consequences, real and potential.  An actual example of such irrational racial bias was demonstrated by Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s killing of two police officers and his arithmetically incorrect instagram immediately prior:  "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs, #Shootthepolice RIPErivGardner (sic) RIPMikeBrown.”  Heartening to see Sharpton and other Community Activists condemning this misguided response.  Too bad that they are unwilling to do the same for those who protest the decisions of  juries of their peers as to Zimmerman, Wilson, and Pantaleo.


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