Monday, April 21, 2008

Government Run Amuck

Big Brother Stings: Don't Get Stung
Could you be arrested for stomping your foot in a restroom? Prosecuted for accepting "hot money?" Or imprisoned for clicking your mouse on a hyperlink that pops up in your Internet browser?
If you live in the United States, the answer is yes. Welcome to the world of Big Brother Government.
Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) is only one of the most familiar victims of a government sting. Last year, Craig visited a men's room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. There, according to the report of an undercover male police officer, he stomped his foot, rubbed his fingers together, and made other gestures that supposedly indicated he wanted to have sex with the officer.
That was sufficient evidence for the officer to arrest Craig for disorderly conduct and "peeping." Not long afterward, Craig resigned from the Senate.
How else might you become lured into an undercover sting operation? Lots of ways. Take money laundering, for instance.
Let's say you work in a bank. One day, an undercover officer approaches you and says he needs to take care of some "hot money." The implication is that the funds were generated illegally. If you accept the money - or even permit the officer to put it in a safety deposit box - you could be convicted of money laundering.
You don't need to know where the money came from. All you need to know is that it came from, or was represented by an undercover investigator to come from, some form of illegal activity. That makes undercover laundering sting operations a lucrative source of criminal convictions.
What's more, all property involved in a laundering offense is subject to civil or criminal forfeiture. Since the bulk of forfeited monies generally remain with whatever agency seized them, the incentives for abusive stings are immense.
A textbook example was the 1999 conviction of Esperanza de Saad, a South Florida banker who was the target of a money-laundering sting. In setting aside his conviction, a judge ruled that an undercover informant who testified against de Saad never represented that the funds he was seeking to "launder" were the proceeds of illegal activity.
How can you protect yourself? Don't stomp your foot in a men's public restroom. Don't accept or otherwise deal with money that has a dubious origin. And be very, very careful of where you surf on the Internet.
For hundreds more suggestions on how to protect your privacy and property, click here.

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