At least 19 members of SDS and Progressive Labor paid the Greater Boston Peace Action Coalition for transportation to the April 24 antiwar demonstration in Washington with over $1350 in worthless checks. Five Harvard students and one Harvard professor and his wife are involved.
The majority of the checks paid to the Boston arm of the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) by the members of SDS-PL had payment stopped on them by the signers from one to three days after the checks were submitted. Two checks were returned for insufficient funds and one SDS member, who has been tentatively identified as a student at Northeastern, opened an account at the Harvard Trust Company the same day on which he paid out a total of $270 in worthless checks to NPAC.
The stopped-payment checks, which range from $18 to $180, were submitted to NPAC in payment for train and bus tickets to Washington. John Finnan, Office Manager for NPAC in Boston, said last night that several bus captains had identified at least 12 persons on the trip to Washington as members of SDS-PL.
NPAC last night gave the CRIMSON photostatic copies of 19 of the bogus checks. Included among these checks is one made out for $150 to the April 24th Transportation Fund, dated April 23, 1971, and signed by Ruth Anne Putnam, wife of Hilary Putnam, professor of Philosophy. Putnam himself made out a check on the same day to the fund for $36. Both checks were returned to the NPAC office early in May, and the Cambridge Trust Company later gave as the reason for the stoppage-as recorded on a routine bank form by the Putnams-the fact that "merchandise [was] not as described." Putnam contacted last night at his home, declined comment.
Other stopped-payment checks were signed by three current Harvard students, two current Radcliffe students, and one recent graduate of Radcliffe. One of the students, Joseph Rothchild '74, asked why he stopped payment on his $180 check, said last night that he decided not to use his bus ticket, and instead used a train ticket which a friend had obtained for him. He also said that he had thrown away the original ticket, and when asked why he did not adhere to the usual procedure of returning the tickets to the seller, said that "things were really pretty confused; I didn't have time." Ira Helfand '71 said last night that he too had used a friends ticket on a NPAC bus and had thrown away the original ticket. "My friend had gotten a whole bunch of tickets and had already bought mine for me," he said.
Since learning about the bogus checks in early May, NPAC has attempted to contact the people involved with very little success. According to Finnan, most of the few contacted have said that they used tickets which someone else had bought them, but could offer no strong explanation as to why they weren't returned. One person reportedly told an NPAC member, "I think the April 24 demonstration was pro-government, was not a peace rally and I don't want to pay for the tickets."
Finnan said last night that the first indication NPAC had that people were trying to pass bad checks was when a person representing himself as Jeff Elman attempted to submit a check for $180 to a ticketseller. The ticketseller became suspicious, called the Harvard Trust Company, and found out that an account had been opened that morning-April 22-by Jeff Elman. The bank said that there was not enough money to cover the check, and immediately notified Elman that his account was invalid. In the meantime an-other check signed "Jeff Elman," but with an entirely different-looking signature was presented to NPAC for $90 worth of tickets. The CRIMSON possesses photostatic copies of both checks.
It is unclear at this time whether or not NPAC will prosecute those who stopped payment on their checks. "We have just begun to talk this over with our lawyers and we're not quite sure what we'll do with the evidence we've collected so far," Finnan said. "The real crime of this is that they're hurting the antiwar effort by this sort of thing. We use the money from any profits we make to subsidize tickets for people who can't afford them, and although we were still able to do that this last time, we are now $500 in the hole."