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Criminal Resource Manual

1312. National Stolen Property Act -- Goods, Wares, Merchandise

Although it is called the National Stolen Property Act, the term "property" itself appears only in the second paragraph of 18 U.S.C. §  2314 (which was added in 1956) and can be interpreted in that paragraph as including all forms of property, both personal and real. However, in the first paragraphs of 18 U.S.C. § § 2314 and 2315 the statutory language utilized is "goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money." The term "goods, wares, merchandise" is not defined. It has been interpreted to be a "general and comprehensive designation of such personal property or chattels as are ordinarily a subject of commerce." See United States v. Seagraves, 265 F.2d 876 (3d Cir. 1959). Therefore the terms includes those tangible products sold in commerce (e.g., books, clothes, gasoline, oil, trailers, computers, televisions, food, vehicle parts, etc.) and has been extended to cover information involving such trade secrets as manufacturing processes. See United States v. Bottone, 365 F.2d 389 (2d Cir. 1966); geological maps, Seagraves, 265 F.2d 876; and chemical formulas, United States v. Greenwald, 479 F.2d 320 (6th Cir. 1973). But see In Re Carol Vericker, 446 F.2d 244, (2d Cir. 1971)(stolen FBI documents were not goods, wares, or merchandise because they are not ordinarily bought or sold in commerce).

In the area of copyrighted works a split in the circuits was resolved by the Supreme Court in favor of the view that the interstate transportation of infringing copies of a copyrighted work that was itself lawfully obtained does not violate 18 U.S.C. § 2314. Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207 (1985). For a further discussion of what aspects of copyright violations may still be covered by 18 U.S.C. § 2314, see this Manual at 1858.

Although the vast majority of personal property covered by the term "goods, wares, merchandise" will be tangible and subject to transportation, any stolen intangible property which in some fashion can be and is reduced to some tangible form prior to, during, or before the completion of the interstate or foreign transportation should be reachable under the first paragraphs of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2315. But see the dictum in Bottone, 365 F.2d at 393. Nevertheless, the broad definition of interstate commerce enunciated by the Supreme Court in United States v. McElroy, 455 U.S. 642 (1982), the tracing doctrine, and the broad legislative purposes of the statute may, under certain egregious facts surrounding the acquisition of the information, convince a court of its applicability to stolen information not necessarily embodied in a tangible object at the time the stolen information crossed a state boundary as long as such stolen information was placed into a tangible object prior to the termination of the interstate transportation. See, e.g., United States v. Wright, 791 F.2d 133 (10th Cir. 1986) holding the wire transfer of the proceeds of a fraud was covered under 18 U.S.C. § 2314, and United States v. Riggs, 739 F. Supp. 414 (N.D.Ill. 1990) proprietary information contained in telephone company's "911" computer text file were "goods, wares, and merchandise."

It should be remembered that while certain written instruments may be deemed not to be "securities" under 18 U.S.C. § 2314 or § 2315, they nevertheless may still be "goods, wares, merchandise" if there is some commercial market for them. See United States v. Gallipoli, 599 F.2d 100 (5th Cir. 1979)(airline tickets); United States v. Jones, 432 F. Supp. 801 (E.D.Pa. 1977), aff'd sub. nom., United States v. Moore, 571 F.2d 154 (3d Cir. 1978)(theater tickets).

It is possible to consider a "motor vehicle" to be "goods, wares, or merchandise" under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 and 2315, provided the policy considerations set forth in USAM 9-61.111 to 61-114, are complied with. Successful prosecutions for stolen motor vehicles and aircraft have been brought under 18 U.S.C. § 2314 or § 2315. See United States v. Dove, 629 F.2d 325 (4th Cir. 1980); United States v. Runge, 593 F.2d 66 (8th Cir. 1979); United States v. Headid, 565 F.2d 1029 (8th Cir. 1977); United States v. Vicars, 465 F.2d 720 (6th Cir. 1972), United States v. Grenagle, 588 F.2d 87 (4th Cir. 1978).

[cited in Criminal Resource Manual 1308; USAM 9-61.200]