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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, August 7, 2005

Developing Scandal: Girl Scout Cookies and the Money Trail

The Washington Post had this story about apparently-stolen Girl Scout Cookie funds; an adult leader ordered cookies, sold them, but failed to turn in the money.  There is a nice criminal law question about whether this is a debt or a theft; if Joe's Supermarket gets Oreos on credit, sells them and fails to pay the wholesaler because Joe spent the money on the light bill and has a money-losing business, it is not theft.  (But maybe cookie dough is like a trust fund, not fungible dollars.)  In any event, it turns out that this sort of misappropriation is not unusual.  There are reports of failure to turn over proceeds in Wisconsin, San Diego, Columbus, and Tucson.  In some jurisdictions, troop leaders who can't keep their hands out of the cookie jar are prosecuted, for example in Cincinnati, Alabama, and Minnesota.  The cookies themselves are frequently stolen; here's a story from Arkansas; here's someone who admits stealing cookies; it happens often enough that this contract addresses the issue (and makes the organization responsible for stolen product).  Look at this cookie sale manual; although covered with hearts and teddy bears, on page 19, the kingpins explain how they handle street-level dealers who take product but don't turn in the benjamins.  (Remember, the bosses always use juveniles to distribute the product, because at least 85-90% of them have no records, not even tardiness.  No one knows how many tax-free millions the bosses make, but the soldiers get crumbs.)  I don't think there's any way to escape the bottom line:  "GSCs" as they are called in the street may be innocuous in and of themselves.  However, the nature of the business and its participants "tends to attract an undesirable quantity and quality of transients, adversely affects property values, [and] causes an increase in crime" (Young v. American Mini-Theaters); as the San Francisco Chronicle has proposed, GSCs should be banned from legitimate parts of the community.   At least one jurisdiction is getting smart, locking up street sellers on quality-of-life pretexts.  Even Cookie Monster--Cookie Monster!--is apparently in a 12-step program, and now sings "A Cookie is a Sometime Food."  So: Just say "no" to Do-Si-Dos. [Jack Chin] 

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