Bernard von NotHaus Seeks Acquittal, New Trial
By Kenneth Corbin
April 01, 2013
The convicted counterfeiter behind the so-called Liberty Dollars is asking a court in North Carolina to grant him a new trial, arguing that a jury erred in 2011 when it sided with federal prosecutors who alleged that the Liberty Dollars were put into circulation in an attempt to be mistaken for U.S. currency.
Bernard von NotHaus has been awaiting sentencing on the counterfeiting and fraud charges since, and is building his argument for an acquittal or a new trial with a memorandum filed this week with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
“The irony of this is that if anything is clear from the evidence presented at trial, it is that the last thing Mr. von NotHaus wanted was for Liberty Dollars was be confused with coins issued by the United States government,” the court filing states, claiming that he has “always operated in the open” and that he took pains to prevent Liberty Dollars from being passed off as U.S. currency.
“His intention – to protest the Federal Reserve system – has always been plain. The jury’s verdict conflates a program created to function as an alternative to the Federal Reserve system with one designed to device people into believing it was the very thing Mr. von NotHaus was protesting in the first place,” the filing reads. “Whatever one’s opinion about the merit of value-based currency, the fact remains that the Liberty Dollars was not a counterfeit and was not intended to function as such. The verdict is a perversion of the counterfeiting statutes and should be set aside.”
Von NotHaus issued the original silver Liberty Dollars as an act of protest through his group NORFED, or the “National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Code,” which was later renamed Liberty Services.
Those Liberty Dollars were produced from 1998 through 2009, and became popular among collectors, particularly a series that carried the image of libertarian-minded former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), himself an outspoken opponent of the Fed. In response to a request from the U.S Secret Service, eBay banned listings of the Liberty Dollars in 2012, the trade publication Coin World reported.
According to the FBI, the 16 million points of Liberty Dollars that von NotHaus had minted were worth around $7 million at the time of his March 2011 conviction. The FBI maintained that von NotHaus was the head of Liberty Services, nee NORFED, until about the end of September 2008.
“Since 1998, NORFED has been issuing, disseminating, and placing into circulation the Liberty Dollar in all its forms throughout the United States and Puerto Rico,” the FBI said in a news release. “NORFED’s purpose was to mix Liberty Dollars into the current money of the United States. NORFED intended for the Liberty Dollar to be used as current money in order to limit reliance on, and to compete with, United States currency.”
US Attorney Anne Tompkins memorably branded von NotHaus’ activities “a unique form of domestic terrorism.
“While these forms of anti-government activities do not involve violence, they are every bit as insidious and represent a clear and present danger to the economic stability of this country,” Tompkins said following the 2011 verdict.
While von NotHaus has shuttered his production of Liberty Dollars, a similar set has since emerged. Dubbed the New Liberty Dollars and issued by Joseph Vaughn Perling, carry a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $50, Coin Week has reported. Keenly aware of von NotHaus’ legal struggles, Vaughn Perling has posted a series of screening questions on website for New Liberty Dollars, where potential buyers are prompted to affirm their understanding that they are not issued by the federal government or subject to federal monetary laws.
For his part, von NotHaus this week is bolstering his request for acquittal with a series of exhibits, including submissions from attorneys attesting to his innocence.
“Mr. von NotHaus was always quite concerned with the legality of all that he was engaging in,” wrote attorney Paul Sulla, who said he began advising von NotHaus on his minting operations in 1998. “He was expressly concerned with the United States’ laws concerning counterfeiting and similitude and wanted to be sure that he would not be in violation of any U.S. law or regulation.”
Once von NotHaus had been indicted and was heading to trial, Sulla agreed to testify as a witness for the defense, but said that he had trouble making contact with von NotHaus’ attorneys, describing a conversation with one “who only had sketchy information as to the legal issues involved and who could provide no information concerning the specific trial dates or even the matters that I would be called upon to testify about.”
Ultimately, Sulla was not called to testify, and he recounted making several attempts to contact von NotHaus’ attorneys, who he said were unresponsive. The trial came and went, and the jury returned a guilty verdict after less than two hours of deliberations. Sulla said he was “shocked” to learn of the verdict, which he attributed to the mismanagement of von NotHaus’ attorneys.
“From my own experience of attempting to work with Mr. von NotHaus’ defense team, I can clearly state that they were not up for his legal defense, either as a result of overwork or incompetence, and as a consequence Mr. von NotHaus was convicted by the jury,” Sulla said.
See also this AuctionBytes blog post, “Not Just Semantics: Amazon Coin Is Not a Coin.” About the author:Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects for more than four years, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.