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‘Caffeine Awareness’ Group Accused Of Running Community Service Scam

(Credit: CBS 2)

(Credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A group hawking e-books on the effects of caffeine was actually selling a bogus way to satisfy court-ordered community service requirements by doing little more than taking an online quiz, prosecutors in Manhattan said Monday.

Instead of cleaning up a park or scrubbing toilets, for instance, defendants paid a fee, took a test about caffeine and didn’t even have to get the answers right, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office said as the Caffeine Awareness Association and founder Marina Kushner pleaded not guilty to false filing and other offenses.

A “fast community service” website linked to the caffeine group also has come under scrutiny in Washington state and in Oregon, where a Portland judge called the community-service caffeine quiz a “scam” in June 2013, according to published reports.

Prosecutors in Manhattan became curious when a woman filed a letter from the caffeine association last year certifying she’d done 100 hours of community service, Assistant District Attorney Tracy Conn said. She said prosecutors found the letter was fraudulent, and a judge resentenced the woman to additional community-service time.

“A community service sentence is a public and personal responsibility,” Vance said in a statement. “Faking it — or helping others fake proof of completion — can lead to criminal consequences.”

The caffeine group’s website advertised that it could provide letters certifying community service completion, charging fees based on the number of hours required, Conn said. The group’s home page and a “fast community service” site that prosecutors say Kushner also ran were down Monday. Washington and Oregon news reports from 2012 and 2013 said prices ranged from $20 to $300, for up to 250 hours of “community service.”

Customers were told to buy e-books that warn against consuming too much caffeine, study the texts at their own pace and then take a 40-question, multiple-choice test, the reports said.

An online payment-processing account associated with the websites received over $200,000 over a period of several years, Conn said.

Kushner, 47, has written various anti-caffeine e-books, book-selling sites show. She was arrested in Delray Beach, Florida, after authorities searched for her for months, Conn said.

Kushner may explore the possibility of a plea agreement, according to her lawyer, Peter Schaffer.

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