Friday, February 22, 2013

Homeland Security Seizes TechCrunch Founder's Boat (Because he wouldn't lie)

This is his story:

I live a fairly simple life and that didn’t change much after I sold TechCrunch in 2010. I didn’t buy a new house or even a new car. The one thing I did splurge on was a boat.

Nothing too fancy or large. I live near Seattle and there’s a big boating culture up here. I found a small company that builds boats specifically for this area called Coastal Craft. I ordered it in 2011 and planned on writing about the experience after it was delivered.

I named her Buddy. It has state of the art electronics and a fairly new highly efficient propulsion system that the TechCrunch audience would be interested in.

There’s a whole story about the disaster of buying a new boat from this company that I’ll write about another day. Needless to say I’ll never be writing the glowing story I first intended. Instead it will be a cautionary tale.

Buying this boat was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made, and the nightmare is only just starting.

Today, though, I’m going to write about how the Department of Homeland Security seized that boat.

Twice before today the company tried to deliver Buddy to me. Each time mechanical problems forced a return to Canada.

Today was the third try, and I really thought it was going to happen.

Buddy has to clear customs, part of the DHS, since she was built in Canada.

My job was to show up and sign forms and then leave with Buddy (WA sales tax and registration fees come a week later).

DHS takes documents supplied by the builder and creates a government form that includes basic information about the boat, including the price.

The primary form, prepared by the government, had an error. The price was copied from the invoice, but DHS changed the currency from Canadian to U.S. dollars.

It has language at the bottom with serious sounding statements that the information is true and correct, and a signature block.

I pointed out the error and suggested that we simply change the currency from US $ to CAD $ so that is was correct. Or instead, amend the amount so that it was correct in U.S. dollars.

I thought this was important because I was signing it and swearing that the information, and specifically the price, was correct.

The DHS agent didn’t care about the error and told me to sign the form anyway. “It’s just paperwork, it doesn’t matter,” she said. I declined.

She called another agent and said simply “He won’t sign the form.” I asked to speak to that agent to give them a more complete picture of the situation. She wouldn’t allow that.

Then she seized the boat. As in, demanded that we get off the boat, demanded the keys and took physical control of it.

What struck me the most about the situation is how excited she got about seizing the boat. Like she was just itching for something like this to happen. This was a very happy day for her.

So now I have to hire a lawyer to try to figure all this out. And I will figure it out, eventually.

My point in writing this isn’t to whine. Like I said, this will get worked out one way or another.

No, it’s to highlight how screwed up our government bureaucracy has become.

A person with a gun and a government badge asked me to swear in writing that a lie was true today. And when I didn’t do what she wanted she simply took my boat and asked me to leave.

What would you have done? Maybe most people would have just signed the form. The U.S. and CA dollars are almost the same value right now (although they weren’t when I made most of the payments on the boat), so what’s the bother?

Well, to me it’s the principle involved, being told to sign and swear to something false, or else.

As usual, I took the “or else” option. And the bastards stole my boat.

The author is  Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch. He currently blogs at Uncrunched 


  1. I'm not generally a fan of Arrington, but telling this story makes up for almost everything I ever held against him. Imagine what they would have done to him if he was sitting in a wheelchair.

    Now give them hell Mike.

  2. It's simply incredible how stupid many of these federal agents are. Hope this goes to court, I want to see what a judge says about this. I'm not a lawyer, but this agent potentially committed a crime by first insisting that he concur with a sworn statement she knew contained false information, and then by siezing his boat when he wouldn't comply. Of course, even if it was a crime, she won't be prosecuted for it.

    1. "It's simply incredible how stupid..."

      People need to stop calling politicians and bureaucrats "stupid" or "clowns" or "dumb" because they aren't. They are CORRUPT. Stop letting them off the hook.

      If Arrington had offered her a bribe, I'm sure he would have had no problems. The American people have yet to figure out that the US became a banana republic after 911 and the government is now filled with corrupt - not stupid - officials.

    2. Okay all, the rest of the story(I was there). 1. The amount on both invoice and CBP form were in U.S dollars correctly completed on the form. 2. Just because someone has $$$ and posts something first on the web, doesn't make them true. 3. The officer in question did not act gleefully, in fact SHE called back to the office and vessel manufacturer several times to verify the stated value. 4. The officer in question vilified by this rich individual now has to endure all the grief posted here and elsewhere by Mr rich guy and explain why she followed the LEGAL document value and wouldn't cow to his brow beating. 5. Coastal Craft ended up paying for a broker to perform what should have been a personal importation and guess what The value on that entry was EXACTLY the same as on the CBP presented form. 6. Mr. Rich guy will probably post everywhere now that HE was right due to the fact that he has his boat and did not sign anything, but the fact is that the company took the high moral ground and due to ALL the false posting by Arrington, they paid for the paperwork to be processed. 7. We are all at the mercy of individuals who feel (right or wrong) that they can put out whatever they feel and get hundreds of all of you all worked up about the big bad government, fact is the is/was correct and all of us had to jump thru hoops due to arrington's posts and written falsehoods. 8. I am proud to work with this office/officer and all of you should be ashamed for vilifying her/DHS without knowing the facts. 9. Most working folds have bosses and we are no exception sadly we had to answer many questions for correctly performing our sworn duties due to all the bad press put out by someone who feels entitled or above the public servant. Shame on you.

    3. The cow you work for took his boat. You cannot deny that.

      Please explain what was false about that, and why the cow you work for shouldn't be fired.

      The government is big, and bad, and murderous, and evil to the core, and you and your ilk are just as bad and evil for supporting it. Your bosses are just good little Nazi bureaucrats.

      If you had any balls, you would sign your name, and name your cow of a boss.

    4. @Anonymous 2/23 9:00PM

      As a government agent, it is your sworn duty to violate the private property rights of others. It is you who should feel shame.

      Do you think it is just for fellow government agents to decide whether or not their colleagues have violated the person or property of others? Perversely, this is the situation now with government courts up to and including the Supreme Court. Alternatively, have you considered that third-party courts would be better at justly settling disputes?

  3. He will not even name the "agents" involved, so its unlikely that he has the correct attitude to do anything serious about this.

    Tyranny is run by cockroaches that scatter when light is shone on them. All of the people involved in this should be named, and their faces put on Techcrunch. He should spare no expense in humiliating them and exposing them publicly.

    By protecting these agent's privacy and not exposing their names, he is reinforcing their air of authority and invincibility. It is a big mistake, even on the lowest level of pure strategy to get his boat back.

    I feel very sorry for the tech community who thinks that government is inherently good and who blithely obey all of its absurd regulations. When things like this happen it is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps now, people like this, and Lawrence Lessig, who was shocked to the core at the murder of Aron Swartz will start to wake up and understand that the US Government is their mortal enemy and their number one mode of contact should be avoidance, disruption, evasion and disobedience.

  4. Is this the same Mr. Arrington who called for higher taxes? It's hard to feel sympathy for someone who whines about government bureaucracy but advocates that the same government should have more of his money. From Arrington's article here:

    "I make almost all my money on carried interest via CrunchFund. And I’m telling you right now that it’s undertaxed. It should be taxed at normal income tax rates."

  5. I've made physical changes to contracts on the spot, crossing out bad language or BS last minute entries that a shyster tried to slide by- and then signed them.

    I've done this a few times and never heard one iota of complaint from the other party.

  6. Gimme a break - correct the error on the form (ie cross it out), sign it and get on with your life.

  7. When we elected Lawyers to write/interpret our Laws we have invited this into our life. As a great man once said, 1st hang all the lawyers.

  8. This type of behavior will only stop when we adopt the judicial approach than when it comes to agents of the state they are to be considered "guilty until proven innocent".

    It is the responsibility of the agent to have a camera on their person filming the entire duration of their shift. If they cannot account for every moment they were on the job, and are accused of a crime, they are considered guilty, and the only punishment option should be hanging.

    Putting a standard such as this in place will leave every single worthless bureaucrat open to extraordinary harm if they do not act properly

    1. Hear hear!

      I thought it was strange that this guy would even countenance considering such an event as "whining", however I see he is a statist and insubordination to the state and then complaining about the ridiculous lengths the government takes to "correct" this is, to them, "whining". Sucks when the shoe's on the other foot, eh?