June 27, 2008

Leviathan…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:48 pm

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“No oppression is so heavy or lasting
as that which is inflicted by the perversion
and exorbitance of legal authority.”

—Joseph Addison
___________________________________

I have watched the local newspapers these last six weeks. Letters to the editor and such. For a reaction, any reaction, from Lancaster County citizens about the Levi Stoltzfoos conviction.

I can’t claim to have seen every opinion essay or letter to the editor, and so may have missed such a reaction, or reactions, if indeed there were any. There was a sneering, utterly tasteless cartoon in the morning paper, the Intelligencer Journal, on May 12th. (The Intel should retract that cartoon and apologize.) Such a cartoon would not have been published about any other ethnic or religious group. But the Amish are fair game, because they are the silent in the land.

They are not silent to me. My Amish friends in the county have politely urged me again and again to write a blog or guest editorial about Levi Stoltzfoos. I have always brush-ed off their inquires, telling them someone else surely will, so I won’t have to. But someone else has not. So here it is.

Levi Stoltzfoos, as I mentioned before in a previous blog, is the ex-Amishman who was convicted in early May of money laundering. Because he deposited numerous separate deposits of around $10,000.00 in cash in various banks, he was flagged. And charged. Brought to trial. And convicted. He faces up to one thousand years in prison.

The local Amish community is quietly and deeply upset about the matter. And well they should be. Ex-Amishman or not, Levi Stoltzfoos is still of their blood.

I’m upset too. The stark plain injustice of his conviction simply takes my breath away. And that’s one reason I’ve resisted writing about it in more detail, because of the deep seething latent rage that always bubbles up inside when I stop and really think about what went down.

From my Amish friends I learned some insider details. According to them (and this may be hearsay), Levi Stoltzfoos, like many others, was concerned about Y2K. When computers would supposedly quit working and all the world would collapse. In prepar-ation of the looming disaster, he removed all his money from various banks. In cash. The total amount: Five Hundred Thousand-plus dollars.

That’s a chunk of change, any way you look at it.

Y2K came and went, and the world did not collapse. A few years passed. It seemed safe. So Levi decided to re-deposit his money in various banks. Because he didn’t want the government to know what he was doing, and because he was afraid the money would be taken from him, he submitted deposits in amounts under $10,000.00.

Which was fine. But he made one fateful mistake. One, and only one, deposit totaled exactly $10,000.00. This triggered the bank’s report requirements. Bank officials dutifully reported Levi, as the law required. Investigators found his paper trail and all the previous deposits he had made.

And so his nightmare began.

The law is the law, whether justified or not. At this point, it seems to me, a simple investigation would have revealed the facts. Levi could have been told that what he’d done broke the law. Not to do it again. And that’s as far as it would have needed to go.

But no. Couldn’t have anything that simple, or follow such basic common sense. The Feds swooped in. Confiscated Levi’s money. All of it. But after investigating, the Feds decided they could not prosecute him because they couldn’t prove he got the money through illegal drug dealing. Because he hadn’t. So they turned it over to the State, which has no such requirements.

Unfortunately, State officials were all too eager to take up the cudgel. They publicized accusations that Levi had gained the money illicitly, dealing drugs. When they knew it wasn’t true. All the local papers ran the story on bold front page headlines. Levi was a bad guy, who didn’t deserve any sympathy.

At trial, it became starkly clear that the money was legitimately Levi’s. That fact is not even in dispute. So the issue became: the law is the law. It was broken, he is guilty, and the money is forfeited. Oh, and because he broke the law, he may well serve jail time.

The jury of my fellow Lancaster County citizens took their job seriously. They followed the letter of the law. And found Levi guilty. Some members of the jury wept as the verdict was read. They knew a terrible injustice was unfolding before them. And they knew they were a part of it.

They could simply have found Levi “Not Guilty.” With no explanation. And that would have been that. But they didn’t. They have to live with that. And now it is what it is.

For the record, I appreciate and value all that law enforcement does in Lancaster County. The local District Attorney’s office overall does a good job prosecuting and jailing common criminals. Decent guys, most of them, working hard at their jobs. For low pay and scant appreciation. And to be fair to them, this case was prosecuted from the State Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office.

But still, I hold the local DA responsible as well, for not speaking out. Any person with common sense can know that the money laundering laws that ensnared Levi Stoltzfoos were not intended for people like him. I am amazed that no one in the state AG or local DA’s office can recognize that fact. And react accordingly.

I am disappointed that not one attorney in those offices could dredge up enough cour-age and integrity to stand up and proclaim: “This is wrong. This man is innocent. We can choose not to prosecute. And we shouldn’t.”

No one did that publicly. Not one man. Not one woman. Not one. And that’s a shame.

Because they are people, men and women, like you and me. They live among us in the community. They have homes, families, children. Hopes, dreams, aspirations.

Theoretically, I’m sure, they would claim to champion justice. That’s why they’re prosecutors. But in this case, at least, they are not dispensing it. Quite the contrary.

I wonder, is this what they envisioned when they were eager students in law school, setting out on a course to “change the world?” Could they have imagined they would ever be involved in such ruthless injustice? Such senseless legal overreach?

I doubt it.

What public policy can possibly justify confiscating Levi’s money? I can think of only one: tyranny.

Somehow, they have lost sight of their mission. The law, every jot and tittle, must be upheld. No room for common sense, or mercy. They are caught up in the idea that because they can, they should. And if a guy like Levi Stoltzfoos gets entangled and ground to bits in the cogs of their machine of justice, too bad. That’s life.

But they are wrong. And they are less human because of it. And because of their actions in this case, we are less secure. In our property and our rights. As a result, we will view those in authority with deepening suspicion and increasing distrust.

Their job is to prosecute criminals, not harass the innocent.

They have become official State oppressors of ordinary civilians who wish only to be left alone. They are Leviathan. A governmental monster, with a thousand clutching tentacles, grasping greedily what is not theirs to take. Concerned not with justice, but only that the letter of the law was broken. Not the spirit, the letter. Willing to confiscate all a man owns and render him destitute, deprived of his rightful gains. The penalty for making an honest mistake, for inadvertantly breaking a stupid, silly law.

As Leviathan, they make a mockery of the “justice” they are sworn to uphold.

I don’t know Levi Stoltzfoos. Never met the guy. I don’t know his age or the choices he’s made in his life. Don’t particularly care to. It’s none of my business.

He’s been portrayed as paranoid. Anyone who does what he did probably is a little bit paranoid. In retrospect though, his fears were justified. So who, I wonder, is actually paranoid? Maybe we’d all be well advised to view those in power over us with a lot more suspicion. Demand real justice, not a legalistic charade. And hold them strictly accountable.

Levi’s frame of mind is beside the point anyway. Even an unsympathetic defendant deserves justice. Especially so.

The Lord, I believe, hears the cry of the wronged and the oppressed. And brings His judgment in His time.

It’s not too late to cancel that judgment. The State Attorney General, Tom Corbett, can still do the right thing. Be a man. Admit he made a bad call. Drop the charges. Apolo-gize. Return Levi’s money. Even then, the nightmare of what Levi has experienced will be with him always. He can never quite be made whole.

Should Mr. Corbett persist in his present course of action, and insist on actually jailing Levi and permanently confiscating his money, the stain of shame against his office and against this state will never be wiped away.

And the Amish community will stand in silent witness to that truth.
________________________________________

Post Note: I have learned that Levi Stoltzfoos was prosecuted by the State Attorney General Tom Corbett, not the local county DA’s office and Craig Stedman as originally written. I have corrected the errors and apologize that they were made.

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(5 Comments) »

  1. As I read this story, the first thing to come to mind was the court martial, conviction and execution of British Admiral Byng in 1757. During an action at the beginning of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War here in the colonies), Admiral Byng failed to aggressively counter attack a French fleet that had just mauled the ships in the front of his line of battle and subsequently allowed a fortress to be taken by the French, this happening after he had been relieved of command but he was blamed for the loss. His actions were no different from other mediocre admirals and even a few brilliant admirals who saw disengagement from a particular battle they were losing was important in order to marshal their forces for an eventual operational victory. The man was obviously a mediocre talent that used his social standing to move ahead in a mostly peace time navy and was caught out when the serious business of total war fell upon him. He was like Admiral Kimmel (CINCPAC on 7 December 1941 who watched his battle line anchored in Pearl Harbor destroyed in two hours by Admiral Nagamo’s Striking Force air fleet) and other peace time place keepers who are found wanting when real war comes. These people are usually quickly pushed aside by the real fighting talent that comes to the fore under the pressure of war and end up retired or pushing paper in a dead end assignment. When Admiral Byng was relieved of command, he was arrested and taken to England. Instead of facing an inquiry and forced retirement, he was placed at court martial (This is the term for the court that forms to try serious offenses against military law. The defendant may be found guilty or innocent at trial. The term does not mean conviction by such a court as many civilians mistakenly believe.). Since England was taking a beating at the start of this war, the Board of Admiralty was looking for scapegoats. The problem for Admiral Byng is that in 1745, a junior and inexperienced officer who took command of a British war ship after his incompetent superiors were killed early in the action surrendered that ship to the French who were in the process of taking it apart. This junior officer was tried at court martial, convicted and executed for failing to do his utmost duty. The outcry against this execution was based on the accusation that the Board of Admiralty was willing to execute sailors and junior officers but would never execute a senior officer. Instead of toning down the penalty or allowing other punishments below capital punishment, the Admiralty changed the Articles of War to include any officer, proving that they were not coddling their friends. Now Admiral Byng stood accused of personal cowardice in the face of the enemy, disaffection and failing to do his utmost. He was acquitted of cowardice and disaffection but convicted of failing to do his utmost. The officers of the court then sentenced him to death because the Articles of War had no leeway. Several authors I have read over the years suggest that the court assumed that no superior body would allow such a sentence to actually be carried out after appeal so they found him guilty of the least charge in order to assuage the nation’s anger over the bad start to the war. The court recommended to the Board of Admiralty that they petition King George II to pardon the admiral so he could disappear from the scene into obscure retirement. Instead, the Admiralty apparently decided to offer Admiral Byng as a sacrificial lamb to hide their own culpability for not preparing for the war and sending the admiral against a superior French fleet with only ten unseaworthy ships. The king did nothing and the admiral was executed by firing squad in March, 1757. The nation, at first angry at Admiral Byng for being a loser, turned their anger against the Admiralty for their overreaction. The English people wanted the admiral humiliated, not dead. The Articles of War remained unchanged until 1779 when the common sense addition of allowing a court martial to impose a lesser sentence for failure to do the utmost was allowed. Fortunately, no more English sailors died because of this stupid overreaction to the 1745 execution.

    The Admiralty and more especially the court martial had some choices, even in the face of a stupid and inflexible law. They could have convened an inquiry, humiliated Admiral Byng and dismissed him from the service. They could have charged him with another offense that did not require the death penalty, find him innocent of the serious charges, convict him of the least charge and dismissed him from the service. They could have realized that they were being set up as a kangaroo court by the Admiralty and had the courage to find him innocent of all charges but seriously suggest that he retire immediately before something bad happened to him. Unfortunately, the story of Admiral Byng appears to being replayed in Lancaster County, PA with Levi Stolzfoos standing in for the good admiral.

    Ira, you are a member of the bar. Can you address Craig Stedman, directly or through mutual professional acquaintances? Failing reason, can several outraged attorneys spend some pro bono time in state and federal court to highlight this outrage? The money laundering law is too extreme and needs legislative attention. Meanwhile, Craig Stedman needs to be reminded that he is in the place of King George II, able to stop the unintended use of a not well thought out law that has no escape clause. This smells almost like an office that wants to make a reputation in a “BIG” money laundering case while adding $500,000 to the county and state treasuries. That alone brings a bad odor to this case, allowing that this could be seen as legalized looting.

    Comment by Mark Hersch — June 28, 2008 @ 12:00 am

  2. Very outrageous, a grave injustice! The wheels of justice turn slowly, but, it will in time come around and grind those who abuse their power in the American judicial system. Ira, maybe you could organize a protest on the courthouse steps. One lone voice in the wilderness of American justice will not be heard, but the voice and actions of many American citizens joined together will be heard.

    Comment by Andrew Yutzy — June 28, 2008 @ 1:57 pm

  3. I too was outraged when I read about the conviction. However I had the opportunity to speak with a former co-worker of his, who changed my views. Apparently he was involved in various money making schemes such as applying for credit cards using a P.O. Box etc., then never paying the amounts charged to the cards. When they searched his home they found unused rolls of tickets for various sporting events and rolls of tickets for the PA Turnpike along with various items such as this. They do not know where he obtained them or what his plan was involving these items.

    The Feds where trying to get a case on him for years but could never pinpoint his location or exact identity. His former employer wanted to fire him for years but was scared to do so due to his unstable condition. He did finally fire him several months ago and got a restraining order filed against him for any person involved with the company. He personally told his co-workers that he will not go to jail and will not go down alone.

    While the case they prosecuted him for is outrageous, I don’t believe they would have pursued this case against a normal law-abiding citizen, but needed to stop this man in any way possible. I think a lot of speculation can happen with a story like this, whether making a case against him or for him. I am not saying he is right or wrong, only that most of us only know what the media portrays, whether good or bad.

    Comment by Smucker — June 30, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  4. The jurors should not have wept. They should have been informed. They should have acted. JURY NULLIFICATION is not obscurantist; it is bedrock among the grassroots government by the People, for the People bequeathed us from the Founders. They and their recent ancestors had experienced real tyranny.

    Every jury has the right – the duty! – to go against “laws” and even judges “orders” for the good of their fellow when they see what is right. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification and also some fine Christian organizations that distribute information to help educate jurors.)

    The right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers (rather than in some far off jurisdiction) helped secure local communities from oppression of the abuse of power inimic to all human authorities, yes, including Christians in such positions. It is part of the wall of jurisdictional separation of powers: on-the-ground authorities protecting from higher up do-gooders, know-it-alls, demagogues and would-be kings and Caesars.

    Rebellion is sin. Lawful Resistance, willing to sacrifice like prophets and martyrs, is what bought the freedoms we are now losing. I wonder if it is in proportion to our ignorance of history and law.

    I have a bit of first-hand experience. In a “previous life” my pro-life activities had me hauled before judges. They often colluded with prosecutors in technicalities so as to avoid jury trials. Nevertheless, they had to allow us a word, so we were able to witness to them, as well as speak for the babies. We sometimes got to witness to prisoners, too, after we refused to pay fines, unwilling to trade money for babies. (These experiences brought me to see a bit more clearly. My political rhetoric is not from an armchair. God means business, and He has a people – that’s how He works it.)

    I wonder if a letter to the editor, maybe a blog, should be devoted to the subject. Happy 4th.

    Comment by LeRoy Whitman — July 3, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  5. I did a bit of checking on this case from my 2013 perspective. One site led to another and I ended up looking at the face of Lebanon Levi from the Amish Mafia show. I’m surprised it’s still running. Is it? Whatever the case, I began to feel downcast seeing the faces of men whos lives are in shambles. I ask myself, what kind of childhood did they have? Did they know they were loved by someone? Was mental illness a part of their DNA or was it abuse, neglect, low self-esteem, extreme lonliness, a need to succeed, but not knowing how? If you look at both their lives, if they are indeed two different men, you see a common thread. A need for dramatic success and self-destruction. A need to proove they are “someone” and at the same time doing things that sabotage their very being. An internal struggle to a severe measure.

    How can we expect a world of unspiritual nature know how to deal with spiritual matters? Real prisons begin in the heart. Once that has been established the body usually follows suit.

    What does Jesus see when He looks at these men? I can tell you- He sees princes. He sees His wonderfully made handiwork. He sees godly men doing godly works. He sees compassionate fathers, devoted husbands, respected sons. He sees men full of joy, able to both give love and receive love. He sees greatness!

    And He feels pain. His beautiful, “very good”, extremely loved, masterpieces are lost. How He longs to hold them, teach them, father them, and give them great things. If only…

    It’s so sad, Ira. That so many, myself included at times, forfeit the unfathomable love that is handed to us as a free gift. The very thing our hearts desire, we turn away from. And yet, we are still loved.

    My favorite part of Handel’s Messiah- “All we like sheep…” -Isaiah 53:6
    My favorite because I am loved in spite of it.

    Comment by Francine — April 12, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

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