• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • The Worst Thing that Anybody Can Do to You is Take Away Your Freedom

    How much danger does the federal government’s unprincipled, out-of-control body of criminal law pose to, say, the average American small-business person?  Well, suppose you were a small-business owner, and for twelve years both U.S. Customs and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had been inspecting the shipments of seafood you were importing to sell to U.S. restaurant distributors.  Suppose that for the entirety of those twelve years you had always packaged your shipments using plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes.  Suppose that there is no U.S. law requiring you to use anything other than plastic.

    It would never occur to you that you might be charged with a federal crime and sentenced to over 8 years in federal prison because a third federal agency, the National Marine Fishery Service, decided that you had violated another nation’s obscure–and invalid–regulation requiring cardboard rather than plastic.

    As chronicled by this new Heritage Foundation video, that is exactly what happened to Abner (Abbie) Schoenwetter.  Abbie had no criminal record whatsoever.  No one alleged that he was smuggling drugs or weapons.  He was not cheating on his taxes.  No one alleged that he used or even threatened violence.

    What federal prosecutors did allege was that using plastic instead of cardboard violated a Honduran regulation.  The Attorney General of Honduras who–like the Attorney General of the United States–is the highest ranking law enforcement official in the nation, certified in writing that this regulation and two others that federal prosecutors alleged that Abbie violated were not applicable to Abbie’s case.

    But because these unreasonable prosecutors were armed with a vague, overly broad, and otherwise unjust federal criminal law (the American Lacey Act), none of this mattered to them.  Essentially, the Lacey Act makes it a federal crime to violate any fish or wildlife regulation of any nation on earth.  (What are the chances that Congress reviewed every nation’s fish and wildlife regulations to ensure they are consistent with the Constitution and U.S. policy?)

    Abbie Schoenwetter’s business, health, and family life (he has a wife and three kids) were wiped out because unreasonable federal prosecutors – one of whom is now the head of the criminal division in the Alabama U.S. attorney’s office – used an unjust law to target Abbie and a Honduran fisherman from whom Abbie purchased his seafood.

    Abbie spent six and one half years in confinement and is now under the supervision of a parole officer for three years.

    But he is not alone.  Aspiring inventor Krister Evertson spent almost two years in federal prison because unreasonable federal prosecutors and EPA officials armed with unjust federal laws decided that storing materials in 3/8”-thick stainless steel drums was the equivalent of disposing of them without a permit.

    Unreasonable federal prosecutors and National Forest Service officials armed with an unjust federal law decided that three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser was a criminal because, they estimated, he might have accidentally wandered into a national wildlife area.  This occurred when he and a snowmobiling companion were caught two days and nights in the Rocky Mountains in a blinding blizzard and almost died.

    Abbie’s story and the others are just a few of the stories told in Heritage’s book, One Nation Under Arrest.  These stories all demonstrate the truth of Abbie Schoenwetter’s statement, “The worst thing anybody can do to you is take away your freedom.”


    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    17 Responses to The Worst Thing that Anybody Can Do to You is Take Away Your Freedom

    1. Does the prosecutor think he will get brownie points for this farce

      These people should be fired

      You want headlines you want brownie points start with the fast and furious and gunrunner investigations
      And maybe you will redeem yourself

    2. Joel Everett says:

      This is just plain awful, immoral, and wrong.

    3. Bill Corless says:

      What year was this prosecution and who was president?

      • Todd says:

        2000, Bill Clinton was president (another democrat)

      • Lloyd Scallan says:

        Bill – To ansewer your question, the investigation began under your fellow Democrat Clinton.

        • Bill Corless says:

          I'm not a democrat, but I figured this happened under Clinton. My computer business was similarly shut down by the FCC during the Clinton Administration. It seems this was more widespread than I knew.

    4. Joel Dusek says:

      The Lacey Act's 2008 amendments have also been used to investigate, prosecute, and harass musical instrument manufacturers and retailers, even working musicians, due to the possible presence of "illegal" wood. Pianos and guitars have been deemed illegal because the wood used to manufacture them is protected somehow, regardless if the instrument is new or antique. The Lacey Act could also apply to furniture, pets, anything that involves flora or fauna in anyway. It is a huge overreach and needs to be repealed.

    5. Bobbie says:

      what a designed hindrance of government on economic freedom! How disgusting the American government go out of their way to destroy the livelihoods of Americans by using foreign law. Sounds like third world governments where they have no respect for people…

      As Americans, we demand to know where we stand with this administration under obama! The governing observed is unacceptable.

    6. Peter Stroempl says:

      My recommendation is for the prosecutors to make restitution to their victims; and to serve time in jail for their crimes against humanity.

    7. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Abbie Schoenwetter's story is just one of many that this government is using to subdue the American spirit and indoctrinate every citizen to accept having our freedoms taken from us almost on a daily baise. This did not start under Obama. But it has increasingly become more common under Obama and Holder where they choose who to prosecute and who not to prosecute (i.e. Black Panthers).

    8. Bobbie says:

      OOPS! Correction: AS AMERICANS WE KNOW WHERE WE STAND! We demand to know where obama and his administration stands as the American government is in opposition of the will of Americans! … government is in control of their own and we suffer their consequences while they are sure not to suffer any of their own. Protected by unions and freely helping themselves to salaries that don't reflect performance is unfair and unearned and off the backs of the people the government is suppose to protect!

      Their governing behavior is unacceptable!!!!!!

    9. TimAz1 says:

      I wonder just how much money could be saved by eliminating unjust laws and regulations that seek to skirt the defense of criminal intent. As far as prosecutors that bring this garbage before a judge and a judge that allows the prosecutor to proceed. These two can usually be held accountable to the people through elections. The people must make it understood that prosecutors and judges that waste tax payers dollars on kangaroo court proceedings will be fired. Had enough yet?

    10. TimAz1 says:

      The solution to this lies in the election process. These prosecutors work under an elected official, so when these prosecutors attempt to waste tax dollars on kangaroo court proceedings they can be fired through elections. The same goes for judges who allow their courtrooms to accommodate this kind of garbage. It won't take long for these public servants to learn what the boundaries are, that are being set by the voting pubic.

      • Steve S. says:

        That's not enough. Criminal prosecution and personal consequences are needed. Without them, you get, well, our current form of abusive government.

    11. Frank says:

      Just think of all the revenue lost because most business stup low enough to deduct toilet paper. Pay taxes off your gross income like I do.

    12. erfraz says:

      If you want to get rid of a competition give lots of money to a politician use that influence and their business will be gone. The government has gotten out of control. I guess our Constitution no longer applies any where, we might as well throw it away or place it some museum and let it gather dust. It's our fault, really, we voted in ungodly, anti-business men to run our government. They in turn brought in more unscrupulous people in, the IRS and many other agencies are getting more and more devious and excelerating more and more control over us. Regulations are becoming intolerable. The noose around our necks is not only a tight rope but eventually will turn to iron. Then it will never be able to come off. Will be praying about the injustices occurring in our country today. The only hope I have is that God knows those people who are doing this will feel his wrath, end times are coming closer and closer.

    13. bob says:

      At what point do these people, unjustly thrown into prison, start to retaliate against their persecutors?

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.