It’s up to the jury now in the counterfeit trial of Bernard von NotHaus, charged by the federal government with passing false currency in his Liberty Dollar venture.
Closing arguments ended late Thursday afternoon. The jury chose a foreman and will begin its deliberations this morning.
Von NotHaus, who calls himself a monetary architect, founded the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act, or NORFED, to create and circulate the Liberty Dollar. It was first produced in 1998 and was shut down in 2009 when the federal government filed its case.
Three final defense witnesses testified Thursday morning. The first was Richard M. Pittigraw of San Jose, Calif. His son was a Liberty Dollar regional currency officer in 2005 for Santa Clara County, Calif., until the U.S. Mint sent a letter warning about NORFED in 2006.
Pittigraw said his son, Matt, prepared a booklet about the Liberty Dollar and approached merchants about it “but was never able to get anyone interested.”
Pittigraw said he thought von NotHaus “wanted to abolish the Federal Reserve.”
The second witness, Edward Fittleman, is not affiliated with NORFED, but his wife is a friend of the wife of NORFED executive board member Kevin Innes. Fittleman told how, after the four of them went out to dinner, Kevin paid part of the bill with a $20 Liberty Dollar.
“This is the only time I saw this,” Fittleman said. “I saw no business card and no discussion beyond paying for the meal.”
The third witness, Jason Pratt of Austin, Texas, became a NORFED regional currency officer and served on the board of directors, working from December 2001 until he left in 2005 because of family responsibilities and little profit in the venture.
While an RCO, he was invited to give a two-hour presentation on the Liberty Dollar to “seven or eight economists” at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
“We talked about monetary policy, and the end result, they said, ‘Good luck. See you in the marketplace. May the best currency win.’ ”
Late Thursday morning, the prosecution called a single witness, Marcus Schaefer, president and CEO of a federal credit union in Winston-Salem, N.C. He said that City Councilman Vernon Robinson sought a meeting with him regarding “an opportunity” relative to the Liberty Dollar, but “I was skeptical. I reminded him that we were all under the thumb of the Federal Reserve.”
After lunch came closing arguments.
U.S. Attorney Jo Rose told the jury that von NotHaus repeatedly changed the design of the Liberty Dollar, always using “symbols familiar to the U.S. in money. Why would he change it if he didn’t intend to defraud?”
She asked why “training” was required for NORFED’s regional currency officers, then answered, “Because it’s fraudulent.”
She stated that the word “counterfeit” means an item that “has such a likeness to something genuine that it was created to deceive someone presumed to be honest and upright.” That, she said, describes the Liberty Dollar.
Rose also told how Maggie Velcito of Asheville, N.C., who testified last week, called the FBI about the silver pieces after seeing a story about them on television. Velcito had received a Liberty Dollar and had put it in storage.
“[Von NotHaus] passed, uttered, possessed and published, and he did it with an intent to defraud,” Rose said. She said the monetary pieces “were intended to circulate as currency. If the defendant intended to make this a barter tool, why call it something else? Keep in mind what the defendant said versus what he actually did.”
In his closing arguments, defense attorney Randy Lee argued that a legal coin must have four defining features, yet the von NotHaus pieces had just three. Unlike legal U.S. currency, the pieces bore the NORFED name and telephone number, he said.
“This case isn’t about anything except how Bernard’s life intersected with the U.S. Department of Justice,” Lee said.
He noted that in 2006, after articles in “numerous venues,” the U.S. Department of Justice conceded that it had no power to stop NORFED. The U.S. Mint “didn’t consider it a problem. There wasn’t even a cease and desist order. Now the U.S. Department of Justice thinks it’s a crime. So here we are, with very little evidence.”
He added that “only Mrs. Velcito” said she was defrauded. He said she “put [the Liberty Dollar] in a piggy bank and called the FBI” only after seeing a television story.
Lee noted that people counterfeit “to make money,” yet von NotHaus hasn’t made any money on the endeavor for 15 years.
“The government hasn’t produced one bank or merchant saying, ‘This ruined my life.’ This is a private, voluntary barter currency. That’s what this case is about,” he said.
Rose had the last word: “If it was a private barter system, why make it look like real money? If it looks like a coin and spends like a coin, it’s in circulation.” ■