So bunches of young folks are bragging that they used TikTok to scoop up blocks of tickets to Donald Trump’s big rally and depress attendance.
Including the daughter of onetime John McCain campaign strategist, if one can grant such a loser that much credit, Steve Schmidt.
Well, isn’t that hilarious? Here’s something more engrossing yet: There’s one word for what these perps claim to have pulled off – fraud.
Under case law in Oklahoma, “the elements of a common-law action for fraud are: 1) a material misrepresentation, 2) knowingly or recklessly made, 3) with intent that it be relied upon, and 4) the party relying on the false statement suffers damages.”
Hmmm. Let’s put on our legal hats for a second. “Material misrepresentation:” “I want to attend your rally.” Check.
“Knowingly or recklessly made:” “There’s no way I’d be caught dead there. I just want to troll Orange Man.” Check.
“With intent that it be relied upon.” “I want the campaign to think millions of people want to come so we can embarrass them.” Check.
“The party relying on the false statement suffers damages.” Discouraging people who actually wanted to come but didn’t, thereby dulling the impact of the event. Economic harm from reserving a large arena that is partly full. Humiliation in being trolled by teenagers. According to some commentators, a “boost” for his opponent. Check, check, check, and check.
Those are the elements of a civil action. Criminal actions can certainly be pursued as well. And in case you think that merely creating the false impression that one is attending an event one has no intention of attending doesn’t count, the statutory language in the Sooner State includes as possible acts of “actual fraud” “A promise made without any intention of performing it; or, Any other act fitted to deceive.”
If it walks like fraud and quacks like fraud – and causes damage to those depending on it – it’s fraud, baby.
But wait – there’s more! Since the instrumentality used for the fraud was the Internet, specifically social media, there’s an argument that federal laws against “wire fraud” could be brought to bear, as the fraudulent activity involved attempting to obtain something of some value: a place at a Trump rally.
And by the way, a nationwide coordinated effort to commit fraud? That’s known as “conspiracy.” A separate offense.
Now, if you might be further wondering whether mere penny ante political “dirty tricks” can be grounds for prosecution, allow this commentator to introduce you to one Donald H. Segretti, a political operative for Richard Nixon’s 1972 Committee to Re-Elect the President, also known as CREEP.
Segretti was, in fact, a bit of a creep back then. He and his team of miscreants pulled off dirty tricks that included sending out fake letters on Democratic candidates’ letterhead – which included charges of out-of-wedlock paternity, homosexuality, consorting with prostitutes – to supporters of their opponents. Middle-of-the-night phone calls claiming to be from campaigns. Invitations to non-existent campaign events. And the pièce de résistance, the famous forged “Canuck” letter to the editor that may have sunk the candidacy of front-runner Edmund Muskie.
The character portraying Segretti in the film version of “All the President’s Men” has him telling Carl Bernstein that his wrongdoings amounted to “Nickel-and-dime stuff. Stuff. Stuff with a little wit attached to it.”
“Nickel-and-dime” and “witty” as the “stuff” might have been, it was enough to send the real operative to prison for four months on guilty pleas to three misdemeanor counts of distributing forged campaign literature – and get him disbarred.
Now, let’s suppose that a legally responsible young adult living far from Oklahoma, with full intent to mislead and sabotage the expensive Trump event, reserved – let’s be conservative – 100 tickets. Perhaps even a teen with the knowledge and active assistance (also known as “aiding and abetting”) of a parent alleged to be a “political strategist.”
In fact, each act of reserving tickets could be conceivably be charged as a separate count of federal wire fraud. Each count of which is punishable by fines and up to 20 years behind bars. In Oklahoma, an act of fraud involving value of less than $500 can land you a $1,000 fine and up to a year in the hooch.
How might the Trump campaign put a stop to this nasty little form of tricksterism? Well, it would get ugly if it prevailed upon the FBI or Oklahoma law enforcement to pursue the wrongdoers, who would be easy enough to find given their open boasting online. Especially if youngsters are involved. But a surrogate might suggest it.
And certainly the Trumpsters would be justified, after all their cost, trouble, and embarrassment, to pick out a few entirely unsympathetic young adults, or parents who aided and abetted the wrongful acts, for lawsuits, including economic and — ouch! — even punitive damages. Just making punks go to the trouble and expense of lawyering up might be worth it in terms of letting Gen Z know that tugging on Superman’s cape is not necessarily cost-free.
Merely some free, decidedly non-legal advice (this commentator resigned his bar membership some time ago). And though probably worth nothing more than the electrons it is communicated by, certainly an amusing notion.