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. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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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