Pay or Curse: Police Investigate “Threats” Against Chinese Immigrants

200px-Codex_Gigas_devilThere is an interesting crime being investigated in New York. Chinese immigrants are giving money to people who threaten that, if they do not pay, they will be cursed. The question is why this is a crime since the threat is based on superstition and cannot actually harm the individuals.


The Chinese immigrants are paying to ward off a so-called “blessing.”

Some accounts do indicate that the con artists have followed people home that could be viewed as stalking or menacing. However, the threat itself is rather hard to fit into a criminal code. If I say that I will wish you spontaneously combust unless paid money, is that an prosecutable crime?

Police are treating this as a con game, but what is the con? This is not like wrapping a hundred dollar bill around a stack of one dollar bills. We have televangelists who sell blessed clothes and prayers to donors with the clear suggestion of divine intervention in a positive way. Is that a con?

The pay-or-curse con is dependent on someone believing that they can be cursed based on religious or cultural superstition. Would it be a defense for the con man to say that he never had the ability to curse the person in a defense of impossibility? Alternatively, would it be a defense to say that he did believe it — making this a first amendment issue?

Usually a con is the false promise of giving someone a false product like a fake gold watch or an empty envelope in exchange for money. Here you are offering something of no value — a promise not to curse — in exchange for money.

To prosecute this practice, police would have to distinguish between accepting money for positive prayers and accepting money for negative prayers. That places the police in the business of enforcing religious and cultural beliefs. What if these same individuals now offer to pray not to be cursed for money?

Consider the curse that has loomed over my life since birth. The curse of the Billy Goat was placed on the Chicago Cubs during the World Series in 1945 after the owner of Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, was asked to leave Wrigley Field because his pet goat smelled. Sianis shouted “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” The Cubs have not won a National League pennant in 104 years as a result. If Sianis offered to lift the curse for money, would that have been extortion? What if I threaten a curse on the White Sox unless I am paid cash? I am a Cubs fan by birth and have all types of Chicago objects that could be used to transmit bad juju like wearing both Wolfy’s and Fluky’s teeshirts – an unholy combination of Northside and Southside hot dog stands.

It will be interesting to see any actual charge that comes out of the Chinese curse cases. The most obvious would be abuse of the elderly which would be based not on the curse but the abuse of a person of advanced age. That would seem a better basis than policing superstition.

Source: CBS

31 thoughts on “Pay or Curse: Police Investigate “Threats” Against Chinese Immigrants

  1. The pay-or-curse con is dependent on someone believing that they can be cursed based on religious or cultural superstition. Would it be a defense for the con man to say that he never had the ability to curse the person in a defense of impossibility?”

    If a conspiracy count can be horseshoed in then “impossibility” is not a defense:

    Consider how a law school textbook might introduce the elements of traditional conspiracy law: Imagine that Joe and Sandra agree to rob a bank. From the moment of agreement, they can be found guilty of conspiracy even if they never commit the robbery (it’s called “inchoate liability”). Even if the bank goes out of business, they can still be liable for the conspiracy (“impossibility” is not a defense). Joe can be liable for other crimes that Sandra commits to further the conspiracy’s objective, like hot-wiring a getaway car (it’s called “Pinkerton” liability, after a 1946 Supreme Court case involving tax offenses). He can’t evade liability by staying home on the day of the robbery (a conspirator has to take an affirmative step to “withdraw”). And if the bank heist takes place, both Joe and Sandra can be charged with bank robbery and with the separate crime of conspiracy, each of which carries its own punishment (the crime of conspiracy doesn’t “merge” with the underlying crime). Why should conspiracy liability begin at the moment of “agreement,” before any crime is committed? Why can a conspirator be charged with both the inchoate offense of conspiracy and the robbery? Why should the law punish conspirators even if it’s impossible for them to commit the crime they planned? Why is withdrawal from a conspiracy so difficult?

    (On The Origin of Conspiracy Theory). It would seem that several people are in on this operation, so conspiracy is not a stretch.

    However, if there is no crime as you argue, then the conspiracy cannot be a crime either.

  2. Michael Powell,

    Your comments are bordering on spam.

    If you want to suggest a topic, the “Corrections” page is the appropriate location. You can include links (up to two) to relative web sites.

  3. I will explore this story further for one reason. I suspect pc in the reporting of this CBS piece. The story does not give the nationality of these con artists. Knowing that all races and nationalities prey primarily on their own, I bet[I’m a gambler, not macho] these con artists are Chinese. If so, the reporter should JUST SAY IT! “The truth shall make you free.”

  4. Brooklyn Daily has a report that’s much more informative. It tells in detail how the scam works, and identifies the scammers as primarily Chinese women ages 30-40 who speak Mandarin or Chinese. TV news has as it’s first tactic to scare people. Informing them is somewhere down the road about 5 miles or so. Despicable.

  5. Surely this isn’t really a controversial issue is it? Surely the standard must be that a threat is a threat as long as it can be reasonably determined that the victim believed the threat?

    If this is extortion, surely it is an irrelevance whether the accused actually intended to carry out the threat or even if they had the actual capability to do so.

  6. Dan, It’s merely an Asian adaptation of the Cosa Nostra protection racket, which preyed on Italians.

  7. After my wife had a probationer sentenced to prison who was a Gypsy..err Roma; the mom put a curse on her in Federal Court. Every once in awhile my wife turns into a toad, otherwise it’s no big deal.

  8. Wait a minute…….. Are you suggesting that Chicago has a Baseball team….. Since when….. Yes, if they do that’s a scam….. and if they have players….. that accepting money under false pretenses…..

    Now, to the heart of the story…. Seems like extortion to me…. But, hey…. Would it be covered by RICO….. When the family does that… some in the government get a little upset…. but wait…. they take money and ….well you know….

  9. I would agree that this is a tough sell for prosecuting on a criminal basis. In reviewing my state law, in order for the “threat” to be considered such there would have to be actual damage threatened. There are numerous elements that are inclusive in threat such as property rights, fear of being confined, etc but I will focus on physical harm to keep it brief.

    If the so called curse was “bad things will happen to you” there is no applicability in the criminal law. If the curse was instead “you will die tomorrow” that would trigger the element for threat of harm.

    It then becomes whether or not a matter of whether or not the actual fear was resident in a victim and this induced them to pay money.

    The term “reasonable person” is often used in that would a reasonable person have been in fear of harm. A man weilding a knife telling the victim give me your wallet or else. Any reasonable person could be justified in articulating they were in fear. But different persons have different standards for which they could be considered to be in fear and the courts have recognized this.

    And example is the “reasonable woman” standard with regard to sexual harassment complaints. The courts have decided (I don’t have the citation immediately available) that having the standard where a man could consider certain actions to be harmless, reasonable women have a different standard in what is considered sexual harassment due to socialization and frames of mind that women have regarding what they would consider to be sexual harassment that is sometimes different than what men have.

    Another example involved the implied threat against an abortion clinic in the 1990’s I belive it was. The Oklahoma Terrorist bomber used a Ryder rental truck to carry and detonate the bomb, that information was fresh in the minds of the public generally. When anti-abortion groups, then presently harassing this facility, parked a Ryder truck in front of the facility, the courts held that to be a threat given the circumstances described previously. A Ryder truck parked in an ordinary capacity would have not been threatening, but given the circumstances and beliefs in the minds of the clinic employees it was to them threatening.

    So if one were to look into the culture of the immigrants mentioned in this article would the result of their socialization that carried along with their upbringing cause them to be in “reasonable fear” among members of their culture who believe that these curses have bonafide repercussions? Is there, for lack of a better word a “reasonable person” element that is different in their culture than our own?

    Plus, there might be the defense that the threat could not be carried out therefore it was not a criminal threat. The measure often is whether the victim believed that it could be carried out. An example is using a handgun pointed at the victim where the suspect articulated it could not fire because it was not loaded. The victim in this case reasonably believed it could cause harm and therefore the extorted action was induced in the victim.

    The bottom line in this might be the suspects in this situation extorted money from the victims to give the suspects money. The victim would not have given money had the extortion not have happened. In the case of the TV evangalists they do not follow the victim home and they are dismissed with a turn of the channel. The curse in this example was made presently and against the victim in person. Curses in many cultures are made against a person directly and specifically to them making this more menacing and real in the mind of the victim.

    Also, not to be insulting, but if one looks in terms of capacity it can look a bit more clear. A child for example does not have the full capacity to differenciate between real and perceived threat as they do not have life experience to guide them. A threat against a child has a lower standard because they are more vulnerable and do not have experiences to compare with. So what might be considered a threat in the mind of a child might not be so with an adult. Those who are not familiar with the workings of modern science and such who have only experienced life in a culture where superstition is common and curses are accepted as a real part of life are certainly going to be more vulnerable to extortion of such curses are used against them.

  10. Surely this could be treated as any other protection or extortion racket.
    Extortion works because the victim believes that you will do something negative if you don’t pay.
    Just because we think that the negative thing is not something to be afraid of, does not mean that the victim is not afraid of it, or that it is not still extortion.

  11. It is possible that the curse being threatened is something which even a reasonable person should be afraid of.

    If the people who are using curses as threats wish to make such threats something to be feared, then anyone who defies them and is cursed must be seen to be under a curse. This potentially involves a lot of secondary violence/poison/arranged accidents to make the curse seem potent.

  12. In 1988, Leroy Ivy and John Adams of Tupelo, Mississippi were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Their intended victim was Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III. The weapon? A Voodoo curse.

    Yep, you read that right. If you try to put a spell on Judge Thomas Gardner III in Mississippi, you might be charged with attempted murder. Gardner had sentenced Adams to 40 years for armed robbery. Adams then got Leroy Ivy, his half-brother, to talk Gardner’s maid, Emma Jean Gates, into giving them a photograph of the judge and a bit of his hair for $100. Leroy Ivy was going to send the photo and lock of hair to a Voodoo woman in Jamaica for administration of the curse. Ms. Gates met Leroy to make the exchange, but as soon as Ivy gave her the $100, he was arrested. Seems that Ms. Gates was a double agent. She had gone to the police with her story so they staked out the place where the transaction was supposed to take place.

    I never did learn the verdict.

  13. Otteray Scribe 1, April 25, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    In 1988, Leroy Ivy and John Adams of Tupelo, Mississippi were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Their intended victim was Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner III. The weapon? A Voodoo curse.
    ========================================
    Their lawyer evidently plead them out (State v Ivy). Perhaps because the state Supreme Court appointed a retired judge to hear the case, exposing their hand I suppose. Not sure.

  14. The ABA Law Journal mirrors my quote of the Yale Law Journal in my first comment in this thread:

    Voodoo as a religion survives in the Carribean, among some Haitian immigrants in Florida, and among pockets of American blacks in the South, particularly in New Orleans and Memphis, Tenn.

    Authorities say the conspiracy began when Ivy and Adams held a three-way phone conversation with the judge’s maid …

    Mississippi law Professor Aaron Condon agrees the case is unusual. “If a person does conspire to kill a judge by some means, under the law, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the means were ineffective.”

    (ABA Journal, Sept. 1989, p. 48).

  15. Thanks, Dredd.
    I knew about this case when it first came up because because it made front page headlines in Mississippi. I just never saw the outcome.

    There was another case, IIRC, in Amite County, MS. It was a personal injury case and the plaintiff’s lawyer stated he was going to ask for hedonic damages. The judge exploded, slamming his hand down on the desk, yelling, “Hedonic? Hedonic means it is of the occult and I will not have anything of the occult in my court.”

    I got that story first hand from the plaintiff’s attorney. He was, to say the least, rather taken aback.

  16. talking heads all you knead too due is look, ‘ , !cros’be, stills, gnash, ‘, yee’ung.

    thou-shalt knot h’rry off to a meating, free falling. thom’petty. men would shave there heads.

    … their is a zipper involved. so pole yer hose down,
    Indiana! the bird is a road runner beech knut. a yellow see, black sea, read cee, a g an baltic. a theif in a knight. a vikeing, whop, nip.p-on fuk-oh-shema. d glen d burkes captain sits on de hurri-cane roof, ‘and keeps hiss eye on duh crewed, with all the billions taken in I have received nothing. men and whomen go bi the same name. gabreal, the ane-gel was a hare lip, and (s)he spoke with lips amyth con-cep-she-own, I made a paper view.
    …WE went to elite schools seaing ,butts, tatwo’s, and rosairies. all oil bare-ons still gave know-thing, butt’ss.
    … the WE school is a-liter in dutch’ss ‘hell. their has been know savings maid known. the church would be heading for chile’in’ waters.is’las ‘al-vein-us, atlant-his has a rose in cease-herses pallice.

    are,tic all, is aunts… wasilla, palmer, lakes gateway, to tore tea-yes!
    … say-rahs family said they were god, just Josh inn. I went by many names over the years, I c’lled them out for a second cumming.the mt. lion has I’S of FIRE to pt. ewe in the write direc-shun, is a ‘hilly Gray-ham, inn an owed to bill-he jo’, and a little dusty spring- feeled.two tosh point oh..,
    …the zipper is coming down on a bored room meating, “and the southern cross” , is in the bath room showering with GOD. and JESUS CHRIST!, and the pen is in plain site …

  17. Otteray Scribe 1, April 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks, Dredd.
    I knew about this case when it first came up because because it made front page headlines in Mississippi. I just never saw the outcome.

    There was another case, IIRC, in Amite County, MS. It was a personal injury case and the plaintiff’s lawyer stated he was going to ask for hedonic damages. The judge exploded, slamming his hand down on the desk, yelling, “Hedonic? Hedonic means it is of the occult and I will not have anything of the occult in my court.”

    I got that story first hand from the plaintiff’s attorney. He was, to say the least, rather taken aback.
    ====================================
    To tell you the truth, I think the judge was where the law should be, even in criminal cases (or especially in criminal cases).

    The Yale Law Journal piece I mentioned is of the same opinion.

    The use of conspiracy goes back to the 1400’s when superstition was stronger: “The concept of criminal conspiracy has its earliest roots in fourteenth century English common law.” (ibid).

    Some of the residue in that part of criminal law going so far back, prior to the U.S. Constitution, seems to me to be unconstitutional.

    If we look at JT’s logic in his post today, it appears that what the government is actually doing is picking which superstition (Caribbean Voodoo, Chinese Mysticism, etc.) is the most serious curse.

    Someone should challenge it on establishment clause, due process, and/or unequal application of the laws grounds perhaps.

    Why is “impossibility” in other criminal charges, but not conspiracy?

    Gotta be that old “black magic” still floating around.

    Just sayin’ …

  18. GOD THE FARTHER 1, April 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    talking heads all you knead too due is look, ‘ , !cros’be, stills, gnash, ‘, yee’ung.
    =================================
    You are getting farther and farther out there bro. ;)

  19. Once, when I was trying an administrative case for the federal government, the wife of one of our respondents sat in the gallery muttering and making odd gestures toward the government counsel table while her husband was testifying.

    Later, one of my colleagues, who is Jewish, explained that she was hexing us with Kabbalah curses — apparently the red string on the wrist and the pictures of the Rebbe in her hand were a dead giveaway to those in the know, which did not include me at the time. The lawyer (also Jewish) who was questioning the witness was highly amused.

    Criminal violation? 18 USC 1505? Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, committees. She clearly was trying to influence the proceeding.

  20. nick, maybe the story didn’t relate the national origin of the scammers because it is not relevant to the story whereas the victims NO is part of the story. A longer story with more background might mention it but really it does not matter, your focus on it makes me wonder what your problem is

  21. I’m not a lawyer, but I’d think the “voodoo” cases could establish legal precedent here, as the threat is similar: “give me money or I’ll harm you with a curse.” The efficacy of any such threat depends on the belief system of the threatened party – there are documented cases of people dying after being informed of voodoo curses, so with some people these threats (not the curses themselves) have real effects.

  22. Well, there is objective reality, and subjective reality.

    I firmly believe that when the law starts acting on purely subjective reality, we are doomed, and will rapidly devolve back to the ecclesiastical courts.

    The law should be tied to actual, real, reality. If something evil couldn’t be effected, even if the participants in it thought it could, then it should not be a crime, but rather an aberrant shared fantasy.

  23. These people are preying upon the elderly. In the Asian culture the elderly are afforded the elevated status they have earned. So, in their culture this is a much worse crime. Our culture look upon the elderly as we do an old toaster..just toss it when it doesn’t work as well. The Asian culture has it correct, from some of the comments here, we have it very wrong. To a certain extent we get having to protect children, well the elderly are not much different.

  24. Frankly, I’ll go back to what I said. If the intent of the tv story was simply to “scare the shit out of people”, then you are correct. If it was to inform, you are wrong. These con women are still operating. Letting the potential victims know how these predators operate, their sex, their scam, what languages they speak, allows potential victims the ability to stop this. The more comments I read here the more I see a cultural insenstivity masked by legal jargon. Con men/women prey upon vulnerable people, the elderly being the #1 target. When caucasian elderly are conned the almost universal reaction is outrage. I do understand the subtle differences legally. I have helped prosecute con men and they are no different than stick up men. Can we agree these women should be apprehended, charged, and then allow a court to decide? If not, they will keep operating, you know that.

  25. pete, lol! There was a tv show several years back that I can’t remember the name. The “electric” toad that you lick was part of the plot. I thought @ the time it was just a manufactured plot device. Thanks for the info, I’m heading down to the pond for some toad lickn’! Care to join me? However, you would probably eat them and overdose.

  26. nick spinelli 1, April 26, 2013 at 10:33 am


    The more comments I read here the more I see a cultural insenstivity masked by legal jargon.
    ====================================
    It is probably the Oil-Qaeda effect within our midst.

    A source of both pc and propaganda all in one whoopie spin.

    A toxoplasmic curse of cosmic cultural proportions for sure.

    But not very important compared to Voodoo, Hoodo, and Chinese conniving.

  27. Roger J 1, April 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’d think the “voodoo” cases could establish legal precedent here,
    ========================================
    They would establish precedent in Mississippi if they were published cases.

    Other states and the feds still would not be bound however, unless there are similar cases in those jurisdictions.

  28. The comments section of the CBS link JT provided had some interesting comments likening the episode to government voodoo … scaring the populace into coughing up taxes for “security” operations.

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