Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Hard cases make bad law
What would you have decided in this case? Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Thanks so much for your ideas Friday on future editions of Understandably. Some of them resonated with me for sure. I'll go through them shortly. If you want to see what people came up with or add your own ideas, go here.
Oh, and anyone else who might want to weigh in in the Entrepreneur’s Ultimate Road Trip, please do so here. (Details here; scroll down to the map.) We had 31 really good suggestions; as you might imagine there’s some duplication but I got some really good additions to the project.
For today, let me get your take on something. I think it might say a lot about how we feel about law and order, and empathy, and making the best choice out of some not-good options.
Or maybe it will just be an interesting story.
The dream is over
In the late 1970s, an American couple from Georgia and their young son moved to Brazil to become missionaries. The son's name was William Ericson Ladd, but people called him "Erik," short for his middle name.
The family grew to love their adopted country, but Erik never stopped feeling like an American, even though he'd only lived in the U.S. for a short time.
As Erik grew older, he developed two loves: travel and flying. His family did not have much money, but thanks to his U.S. citizenship and the fact that he spoke both English and Brazilian Portuguese, when he became an adult he got a job as a flight attendant for United Airlines.
He flew all over the world for 20 years, but he made his home in Texas, where he bought a house and a BMW to go in the garage. Moreover, he was eventually senior enough at United that about half of his flights involved going back and forth from the U.S. to Brazil.
This suited him just fine, as his parents had remained there and he had many friends and family in the country.
Also, he was a gay man (he later said American society was much more tolerant of gay people than Brazil), and he eventually got married to a Brazilian citizen. His U.S. citizenship and stable job meant that he was able to sponsor his husband to come with him to Texas.
It was a nice little story that nobody beyond his friends and family likely ever would have known, except for one detail: After a simple truth, it was all based on a lie.
William Ericson Ladd really was born in the U.S. in 1975, but he was killed in a car crash in 1979, before he reached his fifth birthday. His parents never went to Brazil.
But someone did work for United Airlines, and sponsor his husband, and procure documents and take out loans and build credit in the deceased child's name.
The culprit, after he was caught by federal agents and detained at Houston's Bush Airport, and sternly reminded that it would be an additional felony if he were to lie to federal officials in a secure area of an airport, finally signed a document using his real identity:
“Ricardo César Guedes,” age 49, from São Paulo, Brazil.
“I had a dream, and the dream is over," Guedes told the agents. "Now I have to face reality.”
I've been following this case since last September, when Guedes was first arrested. The details about missionaries and never not feeling like an American—that was how Guedes explained himself as Ladd.
The true story, as agreed in court, is that Guedes had overstayed a tourist visa in the United States in the 1990s. His main goal really was the flight attendant job. He managed to stay gainfully employed for two decades.
People recounted him as a wonderful, dedicated employee and simply a very kind man: stories about him helping an elderly passenger find her son in an airport, and sponsoring a child in Ghana through his education, and volunteering on a flight shuttling Afghan refugees to the United States.
Guedes was held without bail—a pretty easy decision—but I was surprised to learn that a federal judge last week sentenced him simply to time served (a day under seven months), and ordered him to undergo mental health treatment.
With a felony conviction he'll almost certainly be deported to Brazil sometime next year.
I hear about a lot of crazy stories. Why did this one stick in my memory? Why did I feel pity for Guedes? I think because I held two opposite positions in my head at the same time:
As an American, if I hadn't been born here or a place like it, I think I probably would have tried whatever was required to get here. So, basically: Can I blame the guy? Especially since as far as I can tell, he didn't actually hurt anyone directly in his 20-year escapade?
On the other hand, Guedes committed probably hundreds of crimes over the years—every time he swiped his ID card and boarded an airplane using his false identity, to say nothing of the loans, and the house deed, and the family sponsorship, all signed under penalty of perjury.
Plus, you can take this either way, but in most of these identity theft cases, the facts aren't so innocuous.
Reports I found in writing this included a woman who lived a stolen identity for decades after she was suspected in her husband's death, and illegal immigrants who wound up committing additional crimes.
Anyway, the judge imposed a lenient sentence, calling Guedes “a good man who basically made a very tragic mistake to fulfill his dream,” and adding: “Good luck to you, sir. I know you have a difficult road ahead and I’m sure that I will never see you and you will never be in court again.”
In law school they taught us that hard cases make bad law. So what do you all think of this one? Let us know in the comments.
7 other things worth knowing today
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation surprise visit to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. (NBC News)
Arkansas' GOP governor Asa Hutchinson slammed Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis for his ongoing spat with Disney over Florida's so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill, saying “It's a mistake to go after businesses because we disagree with what they said.” Both Republican governors are eyeing runs for president in 2024. (Daily Mail)
After 31 years in prison, a man convicted of murder has his conviction overturned in New York and is freed. The explanation: mistaken identity; a suspect had the same name, and a witness who swore back then he was the murderer now says "as a good Christian woman" she has to admit she doesn't think so. (NY Times)
Just one day before she was to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with her daughter Wynona, Naomi Judd has died at the age of 76. Judd died by suicide and Wynona and Ashley Judd issued a statement saying they "lost their mom to the disease of mental illness." (CBS News)
Six people from Cuba arrived in Miami Beach Friday morning apparently after two full weeks at sea, in what federal authorities say is a rustic migrant vessel: aka a small wooden rowboat. (WashPost)
Millions of bees that were being transported on a Delta Air Lines flight died in extreme heat after being left on the tarmac in Atlanta (pretty far from their scheduled California to Alaska route). (Business Insider)
Couple finds 1950s McDonald's bag with french fries inside wall during home renovations. (CNN)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Unsplash. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.