Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

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Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

Postby Luck » Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:16 pm

I happened to run across this today and thought of you guys for some strange reason...

Federal judge to hear 'heavenly' case
Three defendants scheduled to appear before Judge Terrence Boyle in the US District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in July might just touch on close encounters of the fourth kind.

Steven M. Greer, Emery S. Smith and Deborah Foch have been charged in connection with allegedly operating a commercial venture on a national wildlife refuge.

Charges against Greer include operation of a commercial enterprise on a national wildlife refuge, trespassing on a national wildlife refuge, and violation of "daylight use only" regulation which prohibits all nighttime activities on Pea Island except fishing.

http://obsentinel.womacknewspapers.com/articles/2011/06/01/top_stories/tops214.txt

CSETI is asserting:
First, CSETI events are in no way a commercial operation as alleged. CSETI is a 501 c3 non-profit organization in good standing with the IRS and in no way is a commercial enterprise or business. Any tuition is usual, customary and used to offset appropriate expenses of the non-profit, including CSETI educational and research programs and the work of the ground-breaking Disclosure Project (see http://www.DisclosureProject.org).

Secondly, regarding the event in question, in April 2010 CSETI held a research and educational program at the Outer Banks of NC. A person (who for now shall remain nameless) registered for the program who had worked for 16 years with the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge office as an Administrative Officer. This person, having recently retired from that office, stated that she could obtain any and all needed permits for CSETI to conduct our night time research under the stars on the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

http://www.openminds.tv/cseti-response-701/

However, it looks like Steven Greer doesn't have a snowball's chance. After reading some of the literature and regulations from the National Park Services, the NPS defines commercial services as the payment of a fee to private parties for activities or services that occur within a national park. I couldn't find in any place where there was a distinction made concerning fees paid to non-profit or for-profit organizations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's website is more byzantine than the National Parks Service and provide no clarification on how it defined commercial use, but it does indicate that the refuge manager must be contacted so the refuge manager can determine whether the activity is suitable for the refuge in question since certain activities may not be allowed at specific refuges. This is in line with the general scope of activities allowed at each refuge.
Most importantly, this Act [Refuse Administration Act] reinforces and expands the "compatibility standard" of the Refuge Recreation Act. The Refuge Administration Act authorizes the Secretary, under such regulations as he may prescribe, to "permit the use of any area within the System for any purpose, including but not limited to hunting, fishing, public recreation and accommodations, and access whenever he determines that such uses are compatible with the major purposes for which such areas were established."

http://www.fws.gov/refuges/policiesandbudget/mandates.html


Oh, and the best part (again from The Outer Banks Sentinel...
US Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Bonnie Strawser told the Sentinel in 2010 that a special use permit must be obtained before any such activity can take place. "We require a SUP for all commercial activities that occur on the refuge, but we don't permit all activities.

"We turn down requests for permits that do not meet the requirements for on-refuge activities. The activities are evaluated - activity. time, and location - by impact on wildlife and habitat. Activities must be wildlife-dependent. We don't allow/would not permit non-wildlife dependent commercial recreational activities - thus would not likely issue a permit for a UFO program - commercial or otherwise.

....The same week the group [CSETI] was found on Pea Island, they also attempted to access the beach farther south in the National Seashore, which is managed by the National Park Service, said Steve Thompson, special park uses coordinator for the National Park Service Cape Hatteras Group. "Law enforcement turned them back and told them they had to have a permit. We wouldn't issue a permit for that because it does not fit with our mission," said Thompson. "The only training that we allow is scientific which helps result in the best management of the park - we work a lot with university researchers."



So Greer did not get the correct permits, nor was it likely he would have been issued them in the first place. And perhaps if we are really lucky, the feds are scrutinizing the other national park locales that he likes to hold his events at. [-X

Edit: added url for CSETI's comments and quote/info from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
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Re: Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

Postby Zep Tepi » Sun Jun 12, 2011 11:18 pm

Wow, thanks for posting all of that Luck, it certainly does make some very interesting reading!
The only chance they have regarding this, from reading those links, is no chance!

Maybe someone should send the court that thread about them that's sitting around here somewhere ;)

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Steve
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Re: Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

Postby James Carlson » Mon Jun 13, 2011 1:57 am

I wonder if their status as a public charity would change, should the court establish "commercial venture"? While I haven't checked, it's possible that the definition would still suffice to offset 301c, since it would -- and don't quote me on this, because I really don't know -- require a finding of profit by to establish a "commercial venture". I'm not certain whether a distinction made concerning fees paid is relevant, since the court would still be required to establish the "commercial" quality of the charges. If Greer can substantiate tuition and reasonable expenses, than it might not meet the definition of "commercial" for the court, even it it establishes "commercial venture" in the eyes of the NPS. It's still a federal court, and they generally don't judicate legislation on a department level for an Executive Branch office (I think), which establishes codes of its own, including ethics, unless it's a safety issue (the necessity for a permit, as well as denial of use during night hours represent safety issues). To a great extent, Executive Branch infractions are settled as a result of lawsuits. In other words, if the NPS defines what they've done as a "commercial venture", and a federal court finds the same, than that definition may well be sufficient for the IRS as well. Presumably, a "commercial venture" still has to meet the requirements of law above the definition provided by the NPS.

Like I said, I'm not certain by any means, and it's been awhile since I've taken federal law (like over three years), but I would expect anything described as "commercial" for the NPS, as applied by the court, would also meet the definition for "commercial" by the IRS. It's also possible, I suppose, that the court brought these charges specifically to revoke 301c status; I only mention that, because I would think there are very, very few instances in which a federal court asserts prosecution for what are basically infractions of minor rules -- trial costs are pretty expensive, and having been kicked out of a National Park for being there at night, I can affirm that we weren't prosecuted -- we were just kicked out with a warning that our day permits would be withdrawn if we continued breaking the rules; without a permit, you're basically trespassing on federal property, which is a crime.
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Re: Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

Postby Luck » Tue Jun 14, 2011 10:37 pm

James Carlson wrote:I wonder if their status as a public charity would change, should the court establish "commercial venture"? While I haven't checked, it's possible that the definition would still suffice to offset 301c, since it would -- and don't quote me on this, because I really don't know -- require a finding of profit by to establish a "commercial venture". I'm not certain whether a distinction made concerning fees paid is relevant, since the court would still be required to establish the "commercial" quality of the charges. If Greer can substantiate tuition and reasonable expenses, than it might not meet the definition of "commercial" for the court, even it it establishes "commercial venture" in the eyes of the NPS.


I think a distinction needs to be made here and an important one. Non-profits can and do participate in commercial activities (think Goodwill Industries). There is no legal prohibition from them doing so either. The distinction lies in what is done with any revenue generated. A for-profit business can pretty much do whatever it wants with any profits it makes. Non-profit entities are looking to break even, and if they have happen to turn a profit, it will be reinvested back into the organization.

Lately, I have been feeling rather jaded, and feel it would be far more likely for the Jabberwocky to knock on my door than for Greer's non-profit status to be revoked. I haven't really researched this, but I suspect that unless a NPO advocates the violent overthrow of the government or some other equally disturbing and/or illegal activity, the IRS probably isn't going to do that much about it.
Also, I recently saw an email from Guidestar (the organization I got CSETI's tax forms from); and it indicated the IRS just revoked the status of approximately 275,000 non-profits simply because they failed to file the required tax forms. As long as CSETI files its returns annually with IRS, the IRS will probably allow for its continued existence.
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Re: Greer faces charges in federal court (Really!!)

Postby James Carlson » Wed Jun 15, 2011 3:29 am

True enough ... that's why I mentioned "tuition and reasonable expenses"; if Greer can establish that, nobody will even consider revoking their status on the grounds of commercial venture alone. They may be prosecuted on the basis of NPS definition, but like I said above, the court would have to prove profit, and historically, that's a very difficult case to make.

I was actually hoping they'd get it revoked as political lobbyists for the legislation they've proposed. The courts are extremely considerate in relation to first amendment issues, but as far as I know they've never even come close to applying those standards to lobby groups, and Greer's charity has adopted a number of strategies -- such as "grading" elected officials, civil appointees and military leaders on the basis of proposed legislation -- that have been used by the Dept. of the Treasury in the past to revoke 301c successfully. It has been awhile since I've actually looked into it at that depth, so it's also possible that those infractions have been relaxed some in the past year -- I honestly don't know for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did, especially in our current economy; charity groups are not generally considered good targets by the IRS, and in this time of poor economical growth, the federal government may have relaxed a number of rules in recognition of that.

In any case, I agree with your "cynical" outlook; Greer's group has pretty much been ignored by the Treasury for years, and I don't see anybody making a stand on the basis of lobbying activities, or non-profit/profit issues. But I can still hope.
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