Going “Undercover” to Punish “Economic Crimes”

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Delinda Epstein, a 51-year-old Las Vegas resident, had comfortable life prior to the real estate collapse that cost her a good job with a construction company. Unemployed for more than a year, she lost her truck and home, and now lives in a tiny apartment.

Desperate to pay the rent, Epstein decided to post an ad on Craigslist offering to do small chores, run errands, and perform other odd jobs in exchange for a negotiated fee. Providing transportation was one of several services she mentioned.

Shortly thereafter, she received a call from a man identifying himself as “Richie,” who wanted to be picked up at the airport and shuttled over to Rhodes Ranch (an upscale “golf course community”). Epstein drove to the airport, picked up the man, and negotiated a $30 fee.

Immediately thereafter, a badge-wielding goon rapped on her windshield and announced that he and “Richie” were undercover officers with the Transportation Authority (TA). Epstein was slapped with a $3,800 fine for offering “unlicensed transportation services.”

The fine was reduced to $250, which is still an extravagant sum given Epstein’s straitened circumstances. She had to surrender her car, which had been impounded would be returned only if Epstein paid several hundred dollars in processing fees. And the TA is demanding that she get rid of her cell phone number — which had been used in hundreds of job applications — because it had been used in a supposedly illegal business transaction.

It’s important to recognize that this was pure entrapment: It was the TA that contacted Epstein and asked the desperate but industrious woman to provide a ride; their undercover officer was not deceived by an unlicensed limo driver.

As bad as things were for Epstein, they could have been worse: She could have been offering to perform “unlicensed” construction work in Broward County, Florida.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO), along with bureaucratic paper-polluters and armed donut-maulers state-wide,  has been running a “sting” targeting unlicensed, out-of-work construction contractors offering to perform construction and repair work. Such transactions are referred to as “economic crimes.”

The typical bust is run like the one that targeted Delinda Epstein: An undercover tax-feeder poses as someone needing a job done; an enterprising worker is lured into offering his services; a price is negotiated.

The bust ends when a team of armed deputies come storming into the room with guns drawn and pointed at the contractor, who is thrown face-first to the floor, handcuffed, and otherwise abused — for the “crime” of offering to perform a needed service at an appropriate price without government permission. (See the video found here.)

“The BSO and state officials said the operations have a double purpose: to show construction professionals they need to do work legally or face the consequences, and to warn homeowners about the dangers of using unlicensed tradespeople,” pontificates the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Apparently, the most obvious danger of using an unlicensed contractor is that this act of rampant capitalism might attract the attention of armed maniacs on the government payroll.

10:31 am on November 5, 2009