A prank holiday mailing designed to drum up business for a.k.a Robaire earned the shop a lump of coal from postal inspectors, who warned that the hoax could result in criminal counterfeiting charges.
Instead of a holiday card, agency president Jean Robaire mailed out 150 invitations to a bogus holiday party hosted by Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, and catered by Wolfgang Puck. The party was supposedly set for Dec. 8, but Robaire made sure those on the list received their invites after that date. To make it look like he mailed the invitations on time, Robaire asked a local Kinko's to create a rubber stamp that duplicated an actual post-office postmark.
According to Robaire, attorneys for Kinko's alerted the U.S. Postal Service, which dispatched a postal inspector to the agency's office.
"He flashed his badge and told us the [postmark] looks too damn real," Robaire said. "He said we could not use it."
Robaire altered the stamp's design to ensure that it was distinct from the one used by the post office, and found another source to have it made. He then went ahead with the mailing.
A representative of the Postal Inspector's office in Southern California confirmed that duplication of a U.S. postmark is a violation of federal counterfeiting laws and could also result in civil charges of trademark infringement.
"If there is no criminal intent, there is some leeway," he said. "But manipulation of a U.S. postmark is a criminal offense. There are a lot of good reasons for that. ''
Though Robaire admits he was flustered by the surprise visit from the postal police, he said he has no regrets. "It got us noticed," he said.
One recipient of the gag invite, Court Crandall, a creative partner at the agency Ground Zero, said he was immediately suspicious. "I was amazed Jean could get such a lineup. He usually gives such shitty parties,'' he said.