Terrorism or entrepreneurialism? You decide…

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Here’s the plot: A bunch of guys buy large numbers of cellphones, which they “unlock” and sell at a profit. On 8/11 a Wal-Mart employee is concerned at the number of phones that they bought, and calls the cops, who pull them over and find “999 cell phones, 1,800 dollars in cash, a GPS, notebook computer, laser sight, digital transfer connectors, a black notebook with hand written notes, Microsoft Street & Trip, Microsoft Windows Vista Beta 2, a Sony PlayStation, a digital camera, telephone adaptors and cables, patch cables, memory sticks, a Blackberry, jump drive, an iPod, Palm Pilot, and a box knife.” in their van.

The trio is arrested. Unfortunately they are of Middle-Eastern appearance with names to match, so naturally they are charged with Terrorism. The FBI investigates and finds no grounds for the terrorism charge, so the Terrorism charge is dropped… and then they are charged with Fraud. The Fraud charge is thrown out (with prejudice) for lack of evidence.

The PDF file tendered by the prosecution makes interesting reading…

“TracFone sells the phone for less than what it is charged by Nokia…” Isn’t that TracFone’s problem?

“…but makes up the loss by what it charges consumers for the TracFone prepaid airtime cards needed to activate the telephones.” Repeat Capitalism rule #1 after me: Nobody has the right to make a profit. NOBODY.

 “The prepaid Nokia/TracFone telephones are susceptible to fraudulent use if the TracFone software is removed…” There are so many errors in that statement, I don’t know where to start. Does that mean if the software is there, that fraud is impossible? Of course not. Does that mean that the phone was fraudulent before the software was added? Words fail me, but let’s continue…

“… doing so enables the Nokia telephone to be programmed for use through any cellular telephone service that the user may choose.” That’s the point! Where’s the crime here? Apparently “freedom to choose” extends to killing unborn children, but does not include selecting your cellphone carrier.

“[they]… obtain Nokia/TracFones, remove the TracFone software – and often the TracFone trademark identification – and sell the altered telephones as genuine Nokia telephones to realize a profit.” More silliness. Removing the TracFone Software from a Nokia phone does NOT make it any less a Nokia phone, dummy! Nokia make the hardware! If I buy a Mustang, re-chip the engine management system and then sell the car, is it still a Ford? Of course it is…

Think about it: TracFone buys Nokia phones and then adds software. These guys then remove the software. What do you have left? If it was a Nokia Phone before the software is added, surely it is still a Nokia phone after the software has been removed… taking this line of thought a little further, if the removed software is what made it a “TracFone”, removing the TracFone identification may actually have been the legally correct thing to do!

I applaud the judge. It is good to see judges out there with enough common sense to see through the flummery that was presented in this case.The real question is whether there was any misrepresentation when the goods were sold. If they are described as “Unlocked Nokia Phones” – which is exactly what they are, then as far as I can see, no law has been broken, and the only sin these gentlemen are guilty of is entrepreneurialism.

Personally I would like to see an apology from the FBI agent and the prosecutor for wasting the court’s time. I would not blame the three men for countersuing them.

In conclusion, it is obvious to me that some in Law Enforcement are using a different dictionary to the rest of us. Words like “genuine”, “counterfeit” and “fraudulent” are brandished like weapons in ways that are… well… dishonest.

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