Charges dropped for man who used Liberty Dollars at market

Section:

By Brian Wallace
Intelligencer Journal
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Saturday, March 29, 2008

http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/219006

Theft charges against a Clay Township man who paid a utility bill last fall with privately made coins were dropped Friday after the man paid the bill in U.S. currency.

Fritz Schrom, a 47-year-old Constitution Party activist, was charged Jan. 31 with theft by deception for using silver and copper coins made by Liberty Dollar to pay an electric bill at a Weis Markets in Penn Township.

Schrom's preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday. But before it began, he and his attorney, public defender David Blanck, agreed to pay the $111 bill with U.S. dollars, and the theft charges were withdrawn.

When Schrom emerged from the courtroom, about eight supporters -- most of them wearing "Ron Paul for President" buttons -- congratulated him.

Paul, a Republican congressman and presidential candidate, supports the legalization of parallel currencies, such as gold-backed notes issued from private companies, to compete with Federal Reserve notes.

Schrom, who has campaigned for Paul, contends that privately issued coins are legal, citing as proof the U.S. Constitution's provision that "no state shall ... make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts."

He estimates that he has paid for about $80,000 worth of goods and services with Liberty Dollar coins over the past 18 months, spending most of the money in Lancaster County. Schrom said he was prepared to fight the charges against him to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lechner, in an e-mail, said the decision to withdraw the charges "is in no way a validation of Mr. Schrom's actions," nor does it "have any bearing as to whether Mr. Schrom's actions violated federal laws."

Lechner said the charges were withdrawn only after all parties, including Weis Markets, agreed to resolve the case by having Schrom pay back the bill with U.S. currency.

Schrom faced a $5,000 fine and potential jail time if convicted.

The theft charges stemmed from his payment Oct. 20 of a $110 PPL utility bill and a $1 service fee at the Weis Markets in Manheim Shopping Center.

He paid the clerk with five $20 coins, one $10 coin, and one $1 coin made by Liberty Dollar, which has been minting the coins since 1998.

The clerk accepted them and gave Schrom a receipt, he said. When Weis Markets took the coins to a bank and it refused to accept them, Penn Township police became involved.

Schrom acknowledged that banks don't recognize the coins as legal tender but said they are designed to be private currency for people to use as a form of barter. About $20 million of them are in circulation nationwide, he said.

The U.S. Mint last year issued a warning that Liberty Dollar coins violate the Constitution and warned consumers against using them.

In November, federal agents raided the Evansville, Ind., offices of the company and seized gold, silver, and two tons of copper coins featuring the likeness of Paul, according to the Associated Press.

Paul's campaign said it did not authorize the use of his image, the AP reported.

Despite his belief that the Liberty Dollar coins are legal, Schrom said he has "been a little leery" about using them since his arrest.

He is now attempting to get his coins back from Penn Township police. Because of recent declines in the value of the dollar, they are now worth much more than face value, Schrom said.

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