Vice Squad
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Shopping-Addicted Embezzler Skirts Jail

Ms. Elizabeth Roach has had quite a ride through the Federal court system so far. The long-time Vice Squad reader will recall that Ms. Roach is an oniomaniac -- a shopping addict. Between her shopping mania and her depression, well, she somehow ended up embezzling $240,000 from her employer. The trial judge felt sympathy, and departed downward from the sentencing guidelines (calling for at least a year of jail) via some home confinement, probation, restitution, and work release. The prosecution appealed the downward departure, and a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the sympathy was misplaced. On remand, Ms. Roach's sentence of a year in prison complied with the guidelines. Another appeal ensued -- this one from the defense -- but then the Supreme Court ruled that those pesky guidelines were only advisory, not mandatory. Yesterday saw the unveiling of what is likely to be the final chapter, as today's Chicago Tribune reports:
Elizabeth Roach was sentenced for a third time Monday for the same offense, averting prison for stealing nearly $250,000 from her employer to pay for a shopping addiction.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sentenced Roach to 5 years' probation in large part so she could continue to undergo psychiatric treatment that has helped her with chronic depression and compulsive shopping.

The judge also ordered that she serve 3 months in work release followed by 9 months of home confinement.

Roach, 51, of Chicago has already paid more than $270,000 in fines and restitution.

Roach's lawyer, Jeffrey Steinback, said his client was relieved by the probation sentence and that the prosecution appears to be finally concluded.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Outrunning revenooers was one impetus for what has developed into stock car racing. NASCAR has had tobacco company and beer brewer sponsorship in the past, and recently took on sponsors from the hard liquor industry. Further, according to an article in today's New York Times, NASCAR also has a tie-in to the gambling world. Some scratch-off tickets for the South Carolina Education Lottery include pictures of drivers, their racecars, and the NASCAR logo; see for yourself -- and for $3, you, too, can have a one-in-750,000 chance of winning $50,000 (plus the possibility of smaller prizes). Or perhaps, if $3 is a bit steep, you should consider Shrimp & Grits 2, where your $1 ticket could yield a $2000 payoff! The National Football League isn't participating in a lottery ticket tie-in, but other sports associations are not so reserved:
But Nascar is hardly alone in its pursuit of gambling income. The company that licenses sports leagues and athletes for use on lottery tickets, MDI Entertainment L.L.C., has also signed the N.B.A., the N.H.L. and the golfers Vijay Singh and Annika Sorenstam to use on lottery tickets. The leagues or the athletes receive a cut of the income from the tickets as well as merchandising money from league or team products that are awarded as part of the game.

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Monday, August 15, 2005
Stay Well Clear

My most recent paper (and its abstract) is now available via SSRN, here. The paper presents the philosophical underpinning, so to speak, of the vice policy book that I am working on. The loyal Vice Squad reader should find the premise familiar. Basically, it takes fifty pages for me to argue that vice policy should work pretty well if folks are rational in their vice-related decisions, and it should work pretty well, too, when lots of folks have addiction or self-control problems with vice consumption. Policies that are ruled out by these considerations include prohibition of possession of personal use quantities of drugs, and unfettered market access to cocaine and heroin.

The (pretentious?) title is "From Harm to Robustness: A Principled Approach to Vice Regulation." It's still a draft, so comments and criticisms are particularly welcome.


Sunday, August 14, 2005
Tobacco Lawsuits in the Times

Vice Squad long has complained about the difficulty of keeping track of all of the lawsuits against tobacco manufacturers. Today's New York Times does a good job of describing the present state of play in the most significant cases, and mentions in passing that Philip Morris currently is a defendant in 454 lawsuits. And though the cigarette manufacturers haven't been as uniformly successful in defending lawsuits since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement as they were prior to their pact with the states, they still are doing pretty well:
Since 1998, when the major tobacco companies settled lawsuits with the states for $246 billion over health care costs related to smoking, domestic cases involving Philip Morris as a defendant, alone or with other companies, have ended with 27 verdicts in favor of the defendants and 16 in favor of the plaintiffs, with potential combined awards of $948 million.

But the company has appealed 13 of those cases. Of the remaining three, Philip Morris paid plaintiffs in two, for a total of $20.3 million. The other case was dismissed.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005
Vice Governor

Sam's Wine and Spirits is a very large seller of alcoholic beverages with two locations in the Chicago area, and it comes highly recommended from Crescateer Will Baude. In recent months it has been facing a slew of allegations about illegal practices from the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Don't be too worried, Sam's has a lawyer, and just hired a second one: former Illinois governor James R. Thompson. Where is the case against Sam's being argued? At the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago, of course.

It is amazing that the former Governor could spare some time for Sam's, given his involvement with tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris. His name even comes up when casinos are mentioned.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005
Iraq Alcohol Update

Vice Squad mentioned a few days ago that Iraq's transport minister was trying to shut down sales of alcohol at Baghdad's Airport. Friday's Guardian supplies more information, including:

(1) the ban extends to perfume;

(2) the ban seems to have been implemented; and,

(3) the violence directed at alcohol sellers elsewhere in Baghdad had made the airport one of the few remaining alcohol sales outlets in Iraq's capital.

Incidentally, US soldiers are not allowed to possess alcohol in Iraq. Some do anyway, and some of them are prosecuted by the Army, along with soldiers who use illegal drugs -- which themselves are readily available in Iraq.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Short History of Absinthe

Vice Squad has an infatuation with absinthe. Fortunately it remains illegal to sell absinthe in the good ol' USA, so there is no danger that our infatuation threatens an increase in our insanity. (Note the contrast with typical prohibition supporters, who do not fear that the end of prohibition will result in their own descent into addiction. It's those troublesome others who are the concern.) Last month the Japan Times ran an informative article about absinthe that somehow managed to work a reference to Karl Rove into the mix. (Absinthe is legal in Japan.) Here's a longish extract, including the Rove reference:
Then, on Aug. 28, 1905, a Swiss peasant farmer shot to death his pregnant wife and two small children. Court transcripts indicate that in the 16 hours prior to the shooting, he had drunk two Absinthes, a cre^me de menthe, a cognac and soda, six glasses of local red wine, a coffee and brandy, yet another entire liter of wine, and then topped it off with a final brandy before reaching for his rifle.

In a move that would have made Karl Rove proud, Dr. Magnan and friends were able to label this case as "The Absinthe Murders," and with the temperance movement in full swing, Absinthe was summarily banned in Belgium (1905), Switzerland (1907), the United States (1912), Italy (1913) and finally in France (1915).

Laboratory tests have subsequently found that the "no effect" level for thujone in animals is 12.5 mg per kilogram a day. The FDA and other health regulators generally take the view that setting the human "no effect" level to one one-hundredth of the animal level is sufficiently cautious. Therefore, a very conservative "safe" level for humans is 0.125 mg/kg/day.

Analysis of pre-ban bottles of Absinthe show thujone levels of less the 10 mg per liter, meaning that to reach even this very conservative "no effect" level, a 70 kg person would have had to consumed a bottle and a half a day of 140-proof spirits, a feat which would have resulted in acute alcohol poisoning long before any effect was felt from the thujone. Furthermore, in 1967, Italian researchers found that thujone was the active compound in not only wormwood, but sage as well, an herb not generally considered the scourge of Europe.


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