Ill. man charged in sale of fake Scouts badges

August 13, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

DE KALB, Ill. -- If only there were a Boy Scout merit badge for counterfeiting through embroidery, Michael W. Welsh might be suspected as a candidate to receive one.

He has other accomplishments for which more traditional civics badges would seem appropriate. He served on the De Kalb City Council for eight years. He got 43 percent of the vote in De Kalb's mayoral election in April.

But now, how about a badge for seeing the FBI in action, up close, as they make an arrest? Michael W. Welsh has earned that one.

At the 1993 Boy Scout Jamboree in Bowling Green, Va., Mr. Welsh, a Scouting volunteer, was arrested earlier this week on charges that he peddled bootleg versions of the badges Boy Scouts earned for attending the gathering, authorities said.

And that, one would think, is neither trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean or reverent -- as Scouts must pledge to be.

Mr. Welsh might not have known that this jamboree, like all Boy Scout jamborees, would be crawling with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"I guess people don't know that a lot of FBI agents are involved in Scouting," said Wilber Garrett, a Boy Scout leader and FBI agent headquartered in Richmond, Va.

It was another Boy Scout leader and FBI agent, Dan Estrem, who reported that he was attending the jamboree when he saw Mr. Welsh selling unauthorized Boy Scout patches, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia.

The badges were sold from a 1988 Ford Bronco, which bears Illinois license plates that read "PATCHS 1," authorities said.

Mr. Welsh owns a De Kalb company that makes embroidered patches for the Boy Scouts and other clients.

At jamborees, events held every four years that attract tens of thousands of Boy Scouts, a huge barter economy springs up, and patches serve as the coin of the realm.

Like any economy, the patch economy has rules. The Boy Scouts want to keep the trading as clean as their image, and so they prohibit adults from trading with youths, thinking the adults might have an unfair advantage.

Scouts trade patches bearing troop names, patches earned on trips, patches from canoe camps.

And among the most valuable badges are those representing past jamborees.

According to a federal criminal complaint, Mr. Welsh was charged with selling counterfeit 1993 jamboree badges with a value of at least $2,500.

After a hearing before a U.S. magistrate, Mr. Welsh was released on his own recognizance and ordered to appear before another magistrate in Virginia for a second hearing.

The specific charges against him allege that he violated federal copyright and trademark laws and transported the unauthorized badges over state lines.

If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Mr. Welsh did not return phone calls after messages were left at his De Kalb home. Prosecutors in Virginia said that Mr. Welsh didn't have an attorney at his first hearing and that no attorney representing him had contacted them since.

His company, Welsh Industries, makes embroidered patches and employs "50 to 60" people in De Kalb, a company official said.

According to the affidavit, FBI Agent Estrem became suspicious when he saw Mr. Welsh's car parked at Fort A. P. Hill, where the jamboree was taking place until some 35,000 Scouts broke camp Tuesday.

Agent Estrem began talking with Mr. Welsh, who told Mr. Estrem that he was selling patches that were not made with authorization from the Boy Scouts, according to the affidavit.

Agent Estrem's affidavit also said that Mr. Welsh had been warned in the past not to distribute unauthorized patches.

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