The answer to the legal question posed in The Lone Ranger v 2 # 22 is: I don’t know, either.
There, that was short and sweet. I answered the question, so we can all move on to other things. Me, I’ve got Baseball playoff games to watch. And you…
And you, you’re not satisfied.
Okay, guess it’s time to make a short story long.
The Lone Ranger v 2 # 22 “Rainmaker.” It started in 1870 in a “rural town at the edge of what would become the Oklahoma Territory.” Actually, it started quite a bit earlier. It started whenever the drought started; however many weeks, months, or years that was. The drought which turned the earth dry, killing the crops and the cattle of this rural town alike.
It started because the good people of this rural town were so desperate for the saving rain that they paid an elderly Indian woman who claimed to be a rainmaker a small fortune in gold. She promised that, if paid, she would do a rain dance and it would rain. They paid. She danced.
It didn’t rain.
Not that day. Not the next. Or the day after.
Eight days later the town didn’t love her. It still hadn’t rained and the people were up in arms, although for a western town in 1870, surprisingly few of them were armed. The townspeople believed they had been cheated, swindled, their money stolen by a fraud. They tracked the old rainmaker down, brought her back to town, and were getting set to lynch her.
That’s when the Lone Ranger and Tonto stepped in. Or rode in. When the third most important character in your series is, “a fiery horse with the speed of light,” named Silver, you don’t step into a story. You ride.
The Ranger stopped the lynching and then he, Tonto, and the local sheriff took the old woman off to the local jail. Because where else is the local sheriff going to take her? Sing Sing was out of his local jurisdiction. Alcatraz was still a military prison in 1870. And Shawshank was, well take your pick; not built yet, in Maine, or entirely fictitious.
The Lone Ranger and the Sheriff talked about the situation and basically spend pages six, through eight telling each other and the readers the same stuff that they and we had already learned in pages one through five. The town paid the woman money for a dance guaranteed to bring rain and it didn’t rain. (See, I can do it, too.) The Ranger asked, “Sheriff has a law been broken?” and the Sheriff answered, “Well … hell I don’t know.”
And, as I said back when I was trying to make this column like a stack of two pancakes – short and sweet – neither do I.
Why don’t I know? Because I have no idea what laws existed in some rural town at the edge of what would become the Oklahoma Territory back in 1870, that’s why. Can I conjecture? Sure, I can take the fairly standard elements of criminal fraud as they exist today, pretend that whatever law existed back in 1870 was similar, and go from there. It won’t do any good, but I can do it.
Still, as I’ve already blown my hope of making this my shortest column ever, I might as well. Just be warned, it won’t do any good.
Criminal fraud consists of five basic elements. They are that a person 1) made a false statement of a material fact, 2) knowing that the statement was untrue, 3) with the intent to deceive the victim, 4) into relying on the false statement, 5) resulting in some injury – physical or financial – to the victim. Some of the elements are easy to deal with. So let’s deal with them easily.
The townspeople did rely on the rainmaker’s promises of rain and they paid her money to dance and produce rain. So far it hadn’t rained. Those would satisfy elements four and five, reliance and injury. If elements one, two, and three were also met, we’d have a criminal fraud. So were elements one, two, and three met? I don’t know. That’s why my applying the elements of the present day crime of criminal fraud to our story won’t help. I have no idea about those first three elements.
Oh, we know the old woman made a statement of a material fact. She said if she were paid she would dance and it would rain. But in order for it to be criminal fraud, it would have to be a false statement. And the rainmaker would have to know it was a false statement.
Let’s suppose, for example, your buddy Bernie made off with some other peoples’ money – a boatload of money; hell, an Exxon Valdez load of money — in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Bernie was promising huge monetary returns, if people gave him their money to invest for them then pocketing much of it. Now I know we’re not supposed to suppose, but let’s further suppose that you honestly believed what Bernie was telling people was true and you convinced new investors to join Bernie’s wealth management fund by repeating Bernie’s material misrepresentations. In that case, would you be guilty of fraud making false statements that bilked people of their money?
You may have made false statements, but you did not commit criminal fraud, because you believed the statements were true. To be guilty of criminal fraud, a person must make the false statements while knowing that they’re false. If the person mistakenly believes the statements are true, even though they’re false, then the person has not committed criminal fraud. Oh the person may have committed some tortuous negligence, but not criminal fraud.
Which brings us back to our story. Did the old woman knowingly make a false statement? Did she know her dance would not produce rain and was hoping she could get away before the town realized that soon it wasn’t going to rain? If so, then she made a false statement. If, however, she honestly believed her dance would produce rain, then she did not knowingly make a false statement and she didn’t commit criminal fraud.
So which kind of statement did she make? I don’t know. The story didn’t give us this information.
I do know this, later that night – eight and one-half days after the rainmaker danced her dance – it rained. The townspeople were satisfied and let the old woman leave with her life. And her money. So was she a fraud who just happened to luck out when it actually rained? Or was she a mystic of some kind, a rain king who hoofed like Ann Reinking and called the water out of the sky?
Like I said, I don’t know.
Which, I suppose, is a good thing. People call me a know-it-all. A lot. But now I have formal and printed proof that I ain’t.