Postal Updates

Fake stamp for gyrocopter pilot riles Washington

May 27, 2015 04:51 PM

When first-day cover collector Rollin Berger saw the announcement of a new United States forever stamp on what seemed like the website of a congressional committee that oversees the U.S. Postal Service, he was immediately skeptical.

"Is this legit or is someone pulling our leg?" he asked.

Sure, it was a well-designed stamp, the Clifton, Va., collector said.

It had a profile of the 61-year-old Douglas Hughes and the tiny gyrocopter he flew onto the U.S. Capitol grounds April 15. The lettering was minimal — just like most forever stamps.

But Berger knew that the USPS was not at all likely to celebrate a Florida postal worker's unauthorized April 15 flight into Washington's most restricted air space.

Police had placed Hughes under arrest and seized his one-man gyrocopter moments after he landed.

As the editor of a newsletter for first-day cover collectors, Berger also knew Hughes was automatically barred from appearing on a U.S. stamp because he is a living person.

Berger was puzzled that Hughes was on that supposed congressional website and praised for bringing "unprecedented attention to the corrosive influence of money in our political system."

And there was an admiring quote from Rep. Blake Farenthold, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census.

"We are extremely pleased to honor Mr. Hughes and his daring, if unconventional feat of aerial adventurism and civil disobedience which highlighted dire lapses in our security …" Farenthold supposedly said.

The stamp had been unveiled at the steps of the National Postal Museum in Washington May 19, the website said.

Then there was Hughes holding the stamp up for a gaggle of photographers after a May 21 hearing at the U.S. Courthouse.

That image made ABC News that night and appeared in the May 22 edition of The Washington Post.

Most news accounts of Hughes' court appearance did not question whether the stamp he held over his head was a fake.

The news release, ostensibly on the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform website, said the design had been donated by Thomas P. Conrad, a retired Maryland postal worker and "fellow gyrocopter enthusiast."

Aides to Rep. Farenthold were not elated.

"The press release did not come from Congressman Farenthold or the oversight committee," said Elizabeth Peace, an aide to the Texas lawmaker.

"If you look closely at the URL, it's a copy of their site and not authentic," she said. "It's not actually on the oversight committee website at all.”

Nor was the National Postal Museum happy to have been said to have been seeking Hughes' aircraft, which was emblazoned with a USPS logo.

"This is most certainly a hoax," said Marshall Emery, a spokesman for the museum.

Mark Saunders, who handles stamp publicity for the USPS, said when he saw the website he realized it was a sham.

No media, however, has called him to question the stamp's validity, he said.

A blog posted by two Roll Call newspaper writers said activists who supported campaign finance reform, which Hughes had said prompted his unauthorized flight, had presented Hughes with the stamp image just before he met with reporters.

The incident probably will go down as one of the biggest stamp frauds in recent years.

It also illustrates how the general public — and protest groups in particular — may see stamps as a viable way to conduct a protest  — even if the "protest stamps" they create are bogus.

"I thought as much, but they did a good job making the stamp look real," said Berger.