Overcriminalization has gotten out of control in this country. Most regular Americans have no idea they unwittingly commit three felonies a day on average. As a result, even without explicit criminal intent, individuals are forced to pay extreme fines and some even face jail time. And unfortunately, when it comes to regulations, much of the government-sponsored red tape is aimed at entrepreneurs.
From the persecution of child-run lemonade stands to the crackdown on potlucks, everyday citizens are treated like criminals for behavior that has traditionally played a huge role in our American way of life. But one of the most egregious examples of regulations impacting individual entrepreneurs involves a single mother in Stockton, California who faced a year behind bars for accepting compensation for a home-cooked meal.
Mariza Reulas was unaware that she was breaking any laws when she joined the 209 Food Spot Facebook group a few years ago. The group, which exists for local community members to buy and sell homemade food, has become a target of local law enforcement over the years since most group members do not possess the proper government licenses required to accept compensation for their food.
While many of Reulas’ transactions were trade-based, bartering home cooked meals for other legal items, there were occasions when group members were interested in her famous homemade ceviche but had nothing to trade. Instead, they offered to pay for the meal. Reulas spoke to a local Fox news affiliate saying, “somebody would be like, ‘Oh I don’t have anything to trade you but I would love to buy a plate…”
Reulas’ motives do not appear to be malicious in any way, but her willingness to accept compensation for her meals caught the attention of an undercover investigator from San Joaquin County. According to court documents, a “sting” operation was arranged to catch Reulas in the act of selling her homemade ceviche.
On December 3, 2015, Reulas was contacted by an undercover investigator who expressed interest in her famous ceviche but had nothing to trade. Reulas accepted payment and she, along with a dozen other community members were cited for operating a food facility and engaging in business without a license -both misdemeanor crimes.
Reulas was offered a plea deal of three year’s probation, but she refused. It wasn’t until January 2017 that she was finally able to strike a deal, just days before the case was set to go to trial. This is an extremely stressful burden to place on an otherwise normal mother just looking to provide for her children.
While this seems like behavior better suited for someone suspected of selling drugs, using taxpayer dollars to penalize single mothers for earning a few extra dollars is almost too ridiculous to believe. But the state seemed unapologetic about their behavior towards Reulas.
Clearly, Reulas is not your typical hardened criminal posing a threat to her community, which has led many to question the motives behind the investigators’ decision to focus their attention on a local Facebook group. Surely, there are more pressing matters in San Joaquin County that would be a better use of time and resources. However, the county’s Deputy District Attorney, Kelly McDaniel, has doubled down on the county’s decision saying, “I don’t write the laws, I enforce them. And the legislature has felt that this is a crime.”
McDaniel added that selling food without first obtaining a government license puts the public at risk. She also added that this unregulated competition hurts the restaurant industry and those who have obtained all the proper permits. However, individuals engaging in voluntary exchanges have every right to take those risks if that is their prerogative. Government-issued permits do not ensure safety. If they did, there would be zero incidences of food contamination or food poisoning at restaurants. Consumers are more than capable of making their own decisions when it comes to market exchanges.
When Fox40 asked Reulas what went through her mind when she was faced with the possibility of serving time behind bars, she replied, “my kids.” With the father of her children being absent from their lives, she cannot imagine the fate of her children if she is taken away for a year.
Also published on Medium.