Pubdate: Wed, 01 Aug 2012
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Author: Debbi Baker


SAN DIEGO - An elaborately staged hoax that included fake notices
about the shutting down of beach-area pharmacies and two letters
purporting to be from U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy took several bizarre
twists Tuesday before the real players behind it were revealed -
medical marijuana activists.

The San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the nation's
largest medical cannabis advocacy group, took responsibility for the
scheme at an afternoon news conference.

Local coordinator Eugene Davidovich said it was a "satirical" way to
call attention to Duffy's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries
for closure and possible prosecution and asset forfeiture.

Whether the stunt was mere civil disobedience or a federal crime
remains to be seen. The FBI has been tapped to investigate.

Duffy said the characterization as satire "doesn't change

"This matter will remain under investigation to determine if it's
appropriate to file charges," she said.

Duffy said it is against the law to impersonate a federal officer and
that the crime carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

The first hoax news release purporting to come from the U.S. attorney
was sent to local news media at 7:05 a.m., claiming that legal
proceedings, including criminal charges and forfeiture, would be
brought against targeted pharmacies in La Jolla, Carmel Valley and
Pacific Beach due to the high rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse. It
further said the businesses had to shut down in 45 days.

A second hoax email was sent at 8:52 a.m., saying the first one was a
fake and a "feeble attempt" to defame Duffy's character.

The emails were sent on U.S. Department of Justice letterhead. The
voice mail at the phone number listed on the release said the caller
had reached the U.S. Attorney's Office.

About an hour later, Duffy's office sent an email saying both letters
were fake.

"It's concerning that these kinds of notices could go out," Duffy said
at a morning news conference.

She said she learned about the hoax letters when her office began
receiving calls from reporters and pharmacies. Fake "cease and desist"
notices had been posted on several pharmacies, she said.

As Duffy was speaking to reporters outside the federal building in
downtown San Diego, a man showed up claiming responsibility for the
hoax. He handed out a news release from the Federal Accountability
Coalition, and then walked away, refusing to answer reporters' questions.

When asked if he was a suspect in the fraud, Duffy replied, "He is

Another man also claiming responsibility called his own news
conference a few hours later at Balboa Park, announcing he was an
actor and that the Federal Accountability Coalition was a fake.

Then Davidovich and a handful of activists spoke to reporters,
confirming they were behind the scheme and blasting the U.S.
attorney's stance that many medical marijuana dispensaries are
violating federal law. They were joined by the LGBT activism group
Canvass for a Cause and The Yes Men's "Yes Labs" project.

In October, California's four U.S. attorneys mailed hundreds of
letters to landlords urging them to shut down storefront dispensaries
or risk losing their properties. Since then, more than 500
dispensaries have closed, including 217 in San Diego and Imperial counties.

When asked if he was prepared to go to prison for the stunt,
Davidovich said: "We'll let our attorneys handle the legal issues."

Many in the media were initially fooled by the hoax, including The Los
Angeles Times and the San Diego Reader, which posted stories on their
websites based on the first fake email. U-T San Diego briefly posted a
story on its website based on the second email, saying that the
original one was a hoax.
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