I just got my 2010 Census form in the mail. I assume some of you got one too. You may have noticed that the cover letter includes the following paragraph:
This is your official 2010 Census form. We need your help to count everyone in the United States by providing basic information about all the people living in this house or apartment. Please complete and mail back the enclosed census form today.
Today, huh? So, you take a look at the form, which seems otherwise well designed, and this is the first question you see:
How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?
Uh, that’s just over two weeks in the future, so what should you put down? At first, you’re tempted to guess, but a piece of the federal Census law in 13 U.S.C. 221 says:
(b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.
Or if that doesn’t seem harsh enough, there’s always 18 U.S.C. 1001:
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully–
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
Now I’ve never heard of anyone getting five years in Leavenworth for lying on a census form, but do you really want to take that chance?
Let’s put it this way: If you’re a financial executive, and a frustrated federal prosecutor has been wasting thousands of investigative hours trying to launch his political career by indicting you for the entire bank meltdown, and you’re looking at your census form…call your lawyer first.