Guns Charity Deal Triggers Lawsuit

June 3, 2013       The NonProfit Times      

The owner of a social enterprise that sells jewelry to fund arms reduction in Africa is suing the owner of a social enterprise that sells jewelry to fund arms reduction in Newark, N.J.

Peter Thum, founder of Fonderie 47 in New York City, filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court, the District Court of Connecticut, against Jessica Mindich, founder of Jewelry for a Cause in Greenwich, Conn. Thum alleges in the suit that Mindich stole the idea from him. Thum is seeking unspecified actual and punitive damages for false advertising, misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair methods of competition and five other claims.

“Mindich not only stole Plaintiffs’ ideas and methods directly from Thum, but she went on an all-out media blitz falsely claiming that the entire concept of re-purposing illegal guns as jewelry originated with her,” it is alleged in the suit. Judd Burstein, Thum’s attorney, said the legal action turns on the Lanham Act of 1946, which prohibits false advertising and trademark infringement.

“We believe that the complaint is without merit and we will defend it vigorously,” said Mindich.

Both Fonderie 47 and Jewelry for a Cause sell jewelry with the serial numbers of destroyed weapons printed on them. Mindich insists that a number of companies sell jewelry made from repurposed firearms, that the idea is not new and can be traced to the Bible’s Book of Isaiah, chapter 2 verse 4: “…and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…” Burstein disagrees, saying, “This is a very unique idea, making a direct connection between the jewelry and the gun through the serial number.”

According to the lawsuit, Mindich and Thum met in 2011 at a conference known as The Weekend To Be Named Later (TWTBNL). Thum spoke about his work turning African assault rifles into jewelry. Also at the conference was Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who spoke about gun violence in the city. Mindich said Booker approached Thum about working with him “in helping address Newark’s stockpile of guns,” according to the lawsuit, but that Thum declined.

Thum alleges in  the lawsuit said that Mindich approached him about working with Booker, and Thum said he had no interest in working with either party and “did not consent to her exploiting his ideas.” It is alleged that Mindich then stole Thum’s idea and began working with Booker and the Newark Police Department in violation of TWTBNL’s confidentiality and “no poaching” policies. Nancy Lublin, CEO of Dosomething.org in New York City and identified on TWTBNL’s website as board president, declined to comment.

“Mayor Booker and I wanted to increase the awareness of gun buyback programs as part of a comprehensive approach to eradicating illegal gun violence,” said Mindich. “Over the course of 11 months, I met with City officials, secured the weapons, and turned them into jewelry.”

A February buyback netted approximately 1,800 weapons. According to an April press release from the Newark Police Department, Jewelry for a Cause’s Caliber Collection “has already generated $60,000 for Newark” since this past November.

The suit mentioned that Thum will donate damages if awarded to charities working to reduce gun violence. “In the social purpose business and charity world in which the parties hereto operate, success is tied to being the first to implement a program designed to solve a social problem. If she is not stopped, Mindich will continue to rob Plaintiffs of this crucial recognition and key to their business,” according to the lawsuit. Burstein added, “The charity world is supposed to be a world where people are doing the right thing. This is not about the money, this is about the truth.”