Comments Following Online News Article Generate Federal Subpoena

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A federal grand jury has served a subpoena on the Las Vegas Review Journal requesting the gender, birth date, physical address, telephone number, Internet service provider, IP address and credit card numbers of those people who commented on an May 26 2009 article written about a federal tax fraud and evasion case against area contractor, Robert Kahre.

A trial two years ago featuring some 160 charges ended with no convictions and four acquittals against Kahre and a slew of co-defendants. The jury came back hung on all 109 counts against Kahre so he, his sister and a former assistant are being retried for personal income tax evasion as well as their roles in Kahre’s unique coin based pay system.

Evidently Kahre discovered a chink in the armor of the IRS and was paying his workers with gold and silver coins basing the pay on the market value of the coins. The workers then calculated their income and tax liability based on the face value of the coins instead of the market value in the Federal Reserve system i.e. the value of the coins in U.S. paper dollars.

To the IRS a five dollar bill and a five dollar gold coin are one and the same although the gold coin is actually worth much more than the paper bill. Kahre was using coins which were in everyday circulation, clearly displayed a face value, and were regulated by Congress but somehow nowhere in the IRS’s 67,506 (and counting daily) pages of confusing tax code is it determined how to deal with gold and silver coins when they are used to pay employees or independent contractors. The tax code simply refers to all money used in this country in terms of “dollars.”

The coverage of the Kahre case in the May 26 Review Journal article has generated some 200 comments, the majority of which are critical of the government, IRS, jurors and attorneys in the case. Evidently a few of these comments really stood out and may be the main focus of the subpoena namely one that stated, “The sad thing is there are 12 dummies on the jury who will convict him. They should be hung along with the feds” and another referring to the prosecutor as a “socialist, fascist Mormon” and a “Nazi moron” and one comment which is reported to have now been removed from the site that stated something along the lines that the federal prosecutor wouldn’t see his next birthday.

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The original subpoena served on June 2 initially sought all of the previously mentioned information on most of the commentors but has since been scaled back to just two posters according to a report in today’s Review Journal.

The Las Vegas U.S. attorney’s office appears to have relented in its demand for the identities of all of the people who wrote comments on the Review-Journal Web site about a criminal tax trial in progress. Now it is asking for information pertaining to only two comments that might be construed as threatening to jurors or prosecutors.

The newspaper’s attorneys received a revised subpoena Tuesday afternoon. The original June 2 federal grand jury subpoena sought information on about 100 online comments posted on a May 26 article. That article now has close to 200 comments posted.

Editor Thomas Mitchell said the newspaper was prepared to seek to quash the sweeping subpoena on First Amendment grounds but plans to comply with the narrow request on the two comments.

“I’d hate to be the guy who refused to tell the feds Timothy McVeigh was buying fertilizer,” Mitchell said, referring to domestic terrorist McVeigh, who destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Mitchell said it was to the prosecutors’ credit that they realized their initial request might be overly broad and have a chilling effect on free-wheeling public debate of an important topic.

We all know most people post their thoughts and opinions on the internet under a pseudonym for various reasons, mainly privacy from all of the loons running around out there. Of course there has always been the fringe lunatics who enjoy visiting different websites for the sheer “pleasure” (you know like arsonists) of causing havoc while safely hiding behind their anonymous keyboards and computer monitors. That is just the nature of the beast in the online world.

That said are there First Amendment protections for the people leaving these kinds of comments on the millions of websites all over the internet? After all the First Amendment is not intended to protect nice or polite speech and we have all seen some off the most ridiculous crap that has been allowed to fly by the courts based on First Amendment protections.

Well the ACLU has stepped into the fray, even though the Review Journal said they would cooperate with the feds on their request for whatever information they have on two posters (which is probably very limited but an IP address should be enough to track down the commentors), and they have filed a motion seeking to have the original subpoena ruled unconstitutional,

Staff attorney Margaret McLetchie said the civil rights organization is seeking a court order declaring the original subpoena unconstitutional. She said it has filed on behalf of three clients, who posted anonymously on the Review-Journal Web site and who will remain anonymous during the legal action.

“The right to speak anonymously about politics is older than the Constitution,” she said, alluding to the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers, which were published under pseudonyms.

“We don’t think any of the comments we’ve seen are the appropriate target of government inquiry,” McLetchie said, adding that ACLU staff never saw one about betting on a prosecutor’s death.

The organization does not view any of the remaining comments as posing a “true threat,” which she defined as showing “a clear danger of imminent action.”

As much as I can’t stand this organization, I think the ACLU is right on the money on this one.

This entry was posted in U.S. Politics.

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