In 2009, an attorney named Harvey Silverglate published a book called Three Felonies a Day that became a kind of a meme or urban legend, that seems sensationalist but is really based on simple facts. He used to have a website that summarizes his book, but I can’t find it. First, most federal law does not include the condition of “criminal intent.”
The FBI recently said that Hillary Clinton should *not* be prosecuted for “gross negligence” in exposing classified information because she didn’t know any better, yet a Naval servicement is charged with a felony for taking six photos of the inside of a submarine (and potentially going to jail when crewmembers of the same ship did the same and received internal disciplinary actions).
Second, federal law is so pervasive. One of Silverglate’s examples is the “Honest Services” clause of the mail-and-wire fraud statute, which is so vaguely worded that anyone who calls in sick to go shopping or see a show is guilty of a felony. Speaking of which, technically using an alias online is wire fraud.
Ever download or record something copyrighted without paying? Pass off someone else’s work as your own? How many times does the average person break copyright law?
What about EPA regulations?
Almost anyone involved in education has done something that violates FERPA. Almost anyone involved in healthcare has violated HIPAA or ACA.
Then there are the stories Silverglate tells us people wandering onto federal property, not realizing it, since there’s so much of it, and being charged with traspassing or theft.
Personally, I think Silverglate’s *three* felonies a day is optimistic.
Another issue Silverglate doesn’t touch on, at least in that context, is the “witch hunt” scenario. The New England “witch” scare that led to the Salem Trials started with a book by one of the Mathers about “witchcraft” (Catholicism) among Irish and Caribbean slaves. Now, some “witches” were selling what we’d now call recreational drugs like marijuana and “magic mushrooms.” Sometimes, they or other witches were the forerunners of Planned Parenthood (the only convicted witch in Virginia history was convicted of selling abortifacients and contraceptives, and pardoned centuries after her execution by Tim Kaine). Some were practicing voodoo and other pagan religions, but whatever their reasons for being accused, those who were “guity” admitted it, and took deals by “naming names.” The women they named were mostly innocent, but since they *were* innocent and knew nothing of “witchcraft,” they were prosecuted.
The same happens today with many federal cases, particularly the “War on Drugs”: a criminal keeps his family in the dark about his activities. When he and his wife or roommate or whomever are arrested, he takes the deal and names his wife or roommate or whomever as knowing about it. The innocent and ignorant person goes to jail.
And because these laws are so vaguely worded, and so expansive, anyone can be prosecuted for any reason if the government wants to. Joe Schmoe gets fired or sent to jail for checking his work email at home, but Hillary Clinton is running for president?
Meanwhile, there’s a local story about the indictment of 20 “Irish Travelers” on 45 fraud charges. I had first heard of Irish Travelers through their popular culture representation, and, being inclined to support an underdog, have had a hard time discerning whether the allegations are accurate. If you’ve ever heard of “red Irish” versus “black Irish” (a rivalry once depicted on 30 Rock between fictional Jack Donaghy and non fictional Conan O’Brien), or “lact curtain Irish” or “Shanty Irish,” that’s the Travelers. Whether they’re related to “real gypsies” is disputed.
As disdained as the Irish are in general, the Travelers in Ireland are disdained by the other Irish, as well. Around here, I find that when non-Catholics hear I’m Catholic, they think I’m a Traveler. When other Catholics around the state hear I’m from North Augusta, they think “Traveler.” Ironically, Travelers drive much nicer vehicles than we do, generally dress and style their hair “expensively” (even if the follow out-of-date fashions).
On All Saints’ Day about 5 years ago, we had to drive upstate overnight because my wife had an event there for work, and one of our kids had a medical appointment. When we went to get dinner after arriving in Greenville, we realized we’d left our only card at the McDonald’s we stopped at for lunch. We called to cancel it, but it was too late to go to the bank in person for a withdrawl. Finding myself, in the middle of a real life occurrence of a cliche scam, I took the kids to Mass then asked for help. The parish business manager was the usher, and he got the pastor, who gave us the $60 I requested. That covered a hotel room (how many parents have saved on hotel rooms by undercounting their kids?) and some vending machine food. In the morning, I *did* go to the bank and get the cash, then came back to the church to give back the $60.
The business manager said, “Thanks for restoring my faith in humanity. Keep the money and do something special for your kids.” He mentioned the Irish Travelers in North Augusta (I guess he thought we were Travelers), and recommended their church as a beautiful place to visit, as it had rescued the stained glass windows from an old church in Philadelphia.
It took us a while to actually visit, because we were worried about their reputation for being clandestine, reclusive, etc. While they have a reputation for wearing fancy clothes and hairdos, and the women *do* have 60s and 80s style hair, for daily Mass and devotional services, at least, they dress pretty much like my wife and I do (hence the common impression of people, especially when I’m wearing the jacket they gave me–more on that later). They usually wear religious t-shirts or hoodies.
Their liturgical music is Haugen-Haas, and the most orthodox publications in their vestibule are the diocesan newspaper and Catholic Worker. Otherwise, it’s the “Fishwrap,” US Catholic or Commonweal–I forget which.
OTOH Their parish has Adoration, various Novenas, Rosaries, Legion of Mary and a few other groups. They have an outdoor shrine to the Infant of Prague.
We don’t know if the first daily Mass we went to there was something special, or they just always have a meal, but contrary to reputation, they invited us to join them after Mass for a very nice little buffet in the vestibule. The “lace curtain” part of their reputation is of course a penchant for enjoying fancy food, fancy houses and fancy cars that makes this Carmelite rather uncomfortable.
We went that once for daily Mass in the evening. Then in the Lent before my surgery, we went for daily Mass and Stations on Friday. That was when I noticed the women wearing the religious hoodies and asked about them. They offered to give me one next week, for free. We asked for mutual prayers. We came almost every Friday that Lent for Stations, and after a few weeks, they gave me a very nice St. Michael hoodie that I still have but sometimes feel embarrased to wear. Once, last winter, we passed a group of men at Wal-Mart who saw my hoodie and said, “He’s not one of us. Wonder where he got that?”
We’ve been once or twice since for Mass, and I went to Adoration a few months ago.
Seeing all the women praying in church, with their 60s style hair, with very few men there, made me feel like I was in a mafia movie: the women in church, praying for the men who were out commiting crimes for a living (if reputation was deserved, and the truth is probably somewhere in between.
What I don’t understand, though, is how the fraud the Irish Travelers commit to get their fancy belongings is any different than the fraud committed by Hillary Clinton or anyone else who’s rich. It’s not envy to point out that it’s extremely difficult to become extremely wealthy without commiting some sort of crime or sin.
Most of the articles focus on misrepresenting income to get Food Stamps and Medicaid, and I see comments online from African Americans–a community also stigmatized as being full of criminals and committing the same kinds of crimes–rejoicing. It is horrible how we, as liberals put it, “Other” everyone. It’s always “those people,” and the accusations against “those people” usually apply to “us,” so long as we’re the “good guys.” Every villain is the hero of his own story, after all.
We hear about the Travelers getting paid to do work at people’s houses, doing a bad job, and then leaving. I’ve experienced a lot of workers like that over the years, from licensed repairment to MDs. If a doctor charges me $500 to tell me I’m being a hypochondriac and doesn’t even run a test, I still have to pay him, then he goes and uses my money to make the payment on his BMW. If an Irish traveler charges me $500 to paint my house, does a cheap job that washes off in the next rainfall, and disappears, I’m out $500 that he uses to make a payment on his BMW.
I’ve read articles about previous raids and investigations that turned up nothing but some unaccounted for cash. That actually sounded suspicious to me, like they *were* hiding something, but still, it strikes me as a witch hunt. And as Hillary Clinton races to the White House on the backs of deleted emails, compromised National Security, dead ambassadors, dead friends, dead witnesses, dead lawyers, dead soldiers and dead babies, it seems hypocritical now for the government to prosecute anyone for any reason.