“Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” — Lavrenti Beria, Joseph Stalin’s head of the Secret Police.
It is absurd to compare our nation to the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, in regard to the singular concern of overcriminalization, I fear we may be more similar than different. We have too many laws. Because of the vast numbers of laws in our nation, it is likely that you have committed a crime without realizing it. Really, the only reason you have not yet been imprisoned is that your conduct either went undetected or unpunished by a person of authority.
And you should be aware that there are a lot of persons of authority that could try to punish you for your alleged misdeeds. Most people have no idea of the vast number of federal agencies that have law enforcement power. There are more than 40 different federal agencies who employ armed investigators. Some of these agencies make perfect sense. It makes sense for the FBI, CIA and Military Police to have guns. Some of the other armed agencies are a little harder to understand. These include, but are not limited to, the Department of Education, Library of Congress, US Fish and Wildlife Service, IRS, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Railroad Retirement Board and Smithsonian.
Rest assured, these agencies ensure their investigators aren’t just armed, but that they are nearly a military unto themselves. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration spent over $300,000 on “ballistic vests and carriers.” The Department of Veterans Affairs recently spent nearly $2 million on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear, equipment for crowd control and a “milo return fire cannon system.” Even the EPA and Smithsonian have body armor and recently spent $200,000 and $28,000, respectively, purchasing more.
God help you if you ever find yourself in the crosshairs of one of these investigative agencies because they wage a daily battle just to defend their very existence. In August 2013, the small town of Chicken, Alaska found itself under the scrutiny of investigators from the EPA. Chicken is near the Canadian border and boasts a population of seven, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but it claims about 50 part-time residents with a few more employed miners commuting into town.
In early 2013, the EPA became concerned when a small family-owned gold mining operation began to seek tourist dollars by allowing visitors to pan for their own gold. Worried that too much silt might be allowed into local streams and rivers, EPA investigators sprung into action. In July, investigators conducted surveillance flights in Cessna 206 or a Pilatus PC-12 airplanes. Then in August, agents equipped in armor and armed with sidearms, semi-automatic M-16s, and shotguns descended on Chicken to conduct a raid. They road in on agency ATVs and sped about the Alaskan wilderness looking for possible violations of the Clean Water Act.
After upending life in the small village, the agents eventually left. While a huge sum of money was spent investigating Chicken, Alaska, no charges were ultimately filed. On a more upbeat note, the lead EPA investigator in the raid was thereafter promoted to special agent in charge in the Boston area. The residents of Chicken, Alaska got lucky that the agency decided not to pursue charges. In my next article, I will give an example of citizens who did not fare as well when federal agents came knocking.
For now, beware your federal government. Also, to continue my posting of some of the more absurd laws of our nation, please be aware that it is a federal crime to leave the state of South Carolina in possession of string beans. Attempt to transport string beans outside of South Carolina and you could be imprisoned for up to five years — 7 USC §7734(a)(1)(B) and 7 CFR §301.80(b)(18).
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.