Is Sending Money by U.S. Post Office Illegal?

This question comes up a lot. I hear all kinds of people nattering about this at various times. I’ve even had a client tell me this straight faced and point out one guy who was currently in our building who went to jail for it. Well . . . yes, he went to jail and yes, one of the charges in the conviction had sending money through the mail in the wording but, like Al Gore, they left out all of those inconvenient facts which didn’t support their conclusion.

Granted elected officials come from a very shallow, slimy, algae filled part of the gene pool, but what politician would be suicidal enough to send grandma to prison for putting a few dollars in a birthday card? Okay, they gave us the Susan B. Anthony dollar nobody used and a rash of other almost quarter sized dollar coins everybody refuses to use because they are too close to a quarter in size, but seriously, put grandma in prison for being grandmotherly? Stupidity does have its limits.

I have said repeatedly and will continue to say, every child old enough to read things for enjoyment should be given access to the back issues of both Mad and Cracked magazine from the 70s and 80s when Mad was at its peak of both circulation and content quality.

One of them had a skit called something like “Famous Unfinished Sentences.” I think they ran it a few times. One of the sentences trotted out was “It could have been worse” featuring a picture of a guy gushed by a piano and people looking on. The unfinished part of the sentence was “it could have been me.” As morbid as some may find such humor, it’s true in so many situations. Hold onto this unfinished sentence thought, it’s important.

We now need to veer off and talk a tiny bit about RICO. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. If you watch any mob movie or crime show which involves the mob you will hear the term “A RICO charge.” If you binge watch the series In Plain Sight you should get quite familiar with it. Boiling it down to my citizen’s understanding, RICO is the charge officials get to make once they have other charges. Kind of like the hammer which comes along after you have clamps holding everything in place. Putting it in terms parents might understand, you can’t get just the toy out of the Happy Meal, you have to get the whole happy meal.

I’ve never considered Snopes a bastion of accurate information, but, even they got this almost right if you give them a lot of leeway. It isn’t that the general public made a leap from “not a good idea” to “illegal” all on their own. It is illegal to send any amount of money through the mail for illegal purposes. Like Al Gore dropped data and researchers which didn’t support his conclusion, people who repeat this statement leave off “for illegal purposes.” It’s a new famous unfinished sentence.

Why then, was the person being pointed out someone who went to jail for sending money through the mail? Well, in this particular case, the dude was buying drugs. We aren’t talking about a senior citizen getting a Canadian pharmacy to fill their script here, nor are we talking about “just enough party favors for the weekend.” We are talking about “ain’t no way a single person could imbibe that much in a year and live” quantity. So yes, he went to jail for “sending money through the mail” but it was because he was busted for buying illegal drugs via the postal system. In other words, “sending money through the mail” is the charge you get because of the other charge you got.

Around 30 or so years ago chain letters were rampant. Probably the most famous of these scams rose to prominence during the days of BBS and Usenet groups where for the first time people had computers at home and were bulk communicating. Everyone who ran this scam or blindly followed it sent out some form of a letter which started out with:


My name is David Rhodes.

At one point during the late 80s there were companies selling pre-printed address labels claiming to have thousands of addresses of people who actively participated in chain letters dutifully sending a dollar out for each one they got. It became a massive scamming industry victimizing the gullible. There was a huge crack down. There were all kinds of tales about people who had been on those lists finally having had enough with just sending dollars out and began sending the letters out themselves. Sadly they waited just a bit too long and did it just as the crack down happened and, well . . . a new broom sweeps clean.

Things got so bad there were people trying to skirt the chain letter crack down by creating letter head for a fictitious persons/companies claiming to be a multi-millionaire who now felt a need to “give back to the world” and instead of creating a charity which would help only a few, he/she decided to write down their secrets to going from rags to riches in under a year so they could improve the lives of everyone. For the cost of $1, purportedly to cover the cost of postage and handling, they would send you this document.

Boy did I ever hear of people getting nailed by that one. When you opened the envelop the document, in big bold print, said:

This way!

So, in order to crack down on the seemingly limitless ways people came up with to scam narrow laws and regulations, it is illegal to send money in any form through the mail for an illegal activity. Some people in and near law enforcement have said, even if you send a pre-paid gift/Visa card through the mail to buy your drugs you will go to jail for sending money through the mail FOR AN ILLEGAL ACTIVITY.

Once again, common sense isn’t common and every problem you encounter is a Russian Doll. As a writer, you need to open every Russian Doll in the stack before putting words to paper. Just because “everybody knows” something doesn’t make it true.

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