Kodak Directors Get Massive Stock Grants Day Before “Blockchain” Hype Caused Shares to Spike 300%

Regulators remain soundly asleep.

It just gets better and better. When Eastman Kodak Company [KODK] announced a “blockchain initiative,” its moribund shares jumped 300% in less than two days, from $3.10 to $12.40. They have since lost some of those gains and closed today, after a 9.5% jump, at $9.20.

But here is how seven of the directors on the board of Kodak paid themselves hefty stock grants the day before the announcement. Regulators remain soundly asleep.

The hype started with the company’s press release at noon on January 9 whose title contained the propitious and expertly chosen, algo-friendly, keyword-rich phrase “Launch Major Blockchain Initiative and Cryptocurrency….” Blockchain and cryptocurrency are the two single biggest keywords of the current Everything Bubble. Nothing even compares.

That’s all it took, and they knew it. And the rest in the press release was just decoration interwoven with blah-blah-blah.

As soon as the news was announced – “Kodak, which just launched its own KodakCoin, a cryptocurrency for photographers,…” – the stock took off.

But on January 8, seven members of the nine-member board of directors awarded themselves together, if my math is correct, 416,726 “Restricted Stock Units” (RSUs), a stock grant. At the peak price of $12.40, those RSUs were worth $5.17 million.

The company disclosed this in a slew of SEC filings on January 10, the day after the “blockchain” hype announcement. The filings also indicate that some of the RSUs have been “disposed of” already.

Note how the blockchain hype was plastered all over the media, and the stock grants have remained buried in SEC filings.

Kodak is just a shadow of its former self. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2012 and emerged from it in September 2013. It has since been limping along, losing money in 2014 and 2015, making a wee-little profit in 2016, and headed for another net loss for 2017, based on the first three quarters. Revenues in Q3 dropped 8% from a year earlier to $379 million.

Its shares had plunged 80% from July 2016 until the propitious announcement on January 9. Stock options were underwater, and it was time to do something in the bubble-spirit of our times: hence the blockchain-and-cryptocurrency announcement. They knew it was all it would take to get the price of these moribund shares to spike. Blockchain-and-cryptocurrency hype floats all boats.

So seven members of the Board of Directors disclosed via SEC filings on January 10, the day after the announcement, that they had awarded themselves the day before the announcement a combined total 416,726 RSUs:

Executives had already gotten their turn with stock grants and options on December 15, filed with the SEC on December 19, just after UBI Blockchain had gone through its share-price gyrations, including a 1,100% spike in a few days. The SEC has now halted trading in UBI’s shares 11 days after I lambasted the company.

Among the Kodak executives instantly profiting from the 300% spike was notably Sharon Underberg, General Counsel, Secretary, and Senior VP, having on December 15 received 74,627 RSUs plus 174,826 stock options at a conversion price of $3.35. Ka-ching.

These folks are all very knowledgeable in what they’re doing. So I would assume, when challenged one day by the still soundly asleep regulators, that they’d come up with all kinds of logical-sounding reasons why this was perfectly alright, including the always great excuse that they had no idea what CEO Jeff Clarke – who was not given any stock grants or options on those dates – was up to and would announce on January 9 that would cause shares to spike 300%.

Directors are not involved in the day-to-day management of the company, they’d say. They simply had no clue, they’d say. This sort of “plausible deniability” – that all this was just utter coincidence – is a great standby and has helped avert a lot of problems before.

What is fascinating though is the fact that speculators, from algo-driven hedge-fund strategies to retail traders, say in essence: We don’t care, it makes no difference to us whether or not this is a scam, or illegal, or all above board. All we care about is making 300% in two days riding the coattails of even the silliest blockchain-hype announcement. We all know it’s hype and nonsense, but we don’t care as long as we can get out in time and clear 300% in a few days. The fact that people think this way and that this still works is a sign of just how far this bubble has inflated into the ionosphere.

Eleven days after I lambasted UBI Blockchain, regulators woke up. By then, billions had gone up in smoke. Read…  SEC Halts Trading in my Biggest “Blockchain Stock” Hero

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  72 comments for “Kodak Directors Get Massive Stock Grants Day Before “Blockchain” Hype Caused Shares to Spike 300%

  1. DJ says:

    I am eagerly awaiting SearsCoin. Eddie Lampert is asleep at the wheel again.

  2. Sergio says:

    I wonder if we will refer to ‘computer viruses’ as ‘cryptos’ in the future. New ones pop up all the time and clutter our news.

    • Old Engineer says:

      Sergio, you may be on to something. Malware is tracked by a cryptographic hash of the file since names can vary by locales. Also malware has the potential to actually earn a return on your investment separate from speculative value. And as for the ethics of investing in a criminal enterprise, and as Wolf’s blogs on UBI and Kodak show, the line between legal and criminal enterprises is becoming increasingly fuzzy.

  3. Jim says:

    Wolf: isn’t “bubble everywhere” sorta the rapid inflation that QE was feared to invoke but “never” materialized? Classic over supply of dollars with too few goods. Washing Machines Refrigerators, phone service are inaccurate measures. It’s all deflation from cheap subsidized imports.

    CPI is obsolete old economy jargon these days.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      There are many kinds of inflation. The four most important are: asset price inflation, consumer price inflation, producer price inflation, and wage inflation.

      We’ve had enormous asset price inflation, moderate consumer price inflation (CPI), and very little to no wage inflation (depending on where on the income scale you are, it ranged from wage deflation to rampant wage inflation).

      QE has definitely and purposefully (as explained by Bernanke) caused asset price inflation – it has been soaring for years and is now out-of-control and even the Fed is getting worried.

      • mean chicken says:

        The financial crisis was a hoax, next crisis will be as well b/c crime pays.

  4. JOE says:

    7 of 9? Were the other two directors bound and gagged, and stuffed in a closet?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      One of the two that didn’t participate in the grants was CEO Jeff Clarke. I assume it would not have passed the smell test from a mile away. The other director that didn’t participate was Jason New, an independent director. I don’t know why he didn’t participate.

  5. David Calder says:

    I read and follow your columns faithfully everyday, and thank you for doing this, but how is it you don’t see a genuine collapse coming when these bubbles pop?. I think that if one pops they all will with so much of this, maybe all of it, tied to artificially cheap money.. The whole industrialized world has inflated the value of their homes, stocks, commodities, really everything but wages with cheap money. I can’t see how this will end well.. I don’t see a comeuppance as imminent but I do see it as inevitable..

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part. I do not want to see another big crisis like we had. All it would accomplish is getting central banks involved all over again. I want things to get back to “normal” in some sort of slow orderly way (not via a crisis), where things get cleared up with the processes we have in place, gradually, over time. This could keep central banks on the sideline and might actually cleanse the system.

      There is no problem that I write about that cannot be addressed with the standard processes we have in place (bankruptcy law, defaults, enforcement of securities laws and other laws, etc.). They just need to have a chance to work.

      • wkevinw says:

        “Having a chance to work” is the problem. Some of these, such as the regulators in the area of equity compensation of corporate boards, require backbone by law enforcement people in the government.

        That is what is very much lacking. In the past, it seems that a significant fraction of the “incentive” for regulators was to do their legal and ethical duty. (being “good”) Now it seems that if somebody doesn’t get compensated the way they want/like, even those who swore oaths in the government, they don’t take action.

        • Drango says:

          Many of these “regulators” will be looking for other jobs in a couple of years. I wonder if Kodak will be hiring?

      • george mcduffee says:


      • Agreed a melt out would be better than a melt down. Bitcoin is a means to circumvent the restrictions on money (laundering) , and the authority to tax, and there are people willing to pay a large premium for that. Recall around 07 when ‘offshore tax shelter’ planning was a cottage industry. Cannabis is the catalyst, once a few states legalize pot, our leaky transportation network ensures a viable export market. There is a lot of economic activity going on, much of it officially unrecognized, and I think markets are taking their cue from this, and the means to move money without restrictions even if the premium is large, so are the profits. Now if you could price bitcoin in something other than fiat it might be a new market pricing mechanism relieving us of central banks credit repression, although credit is currently priced below free market rates (I assume). When cannabis is legal and all taxes repealed, then bitcoin will come down to earth, or sooner if the cops get onto it.

        • Kraig says:

          Bitcoin (or rather.cryptos since Bitcoin is just the original one) are priced in all sorts of things other than fiat. Gold,carbon emissions,solar power, hydro, kw hour, hard drive filespace as well as themselves of course. Fiat is just the accounting system most people understand. Pricing/book keeping in oranges would be harder to understand.

        • R. Seckler says:

          What if we exporting cannibis to Mexico and beyond?

        • george mcduffee says:

          One man’s “tax evasion and haven” is another man’s redeployment of capital to maximize return and minimize risk.

      • Thor's Hammer says:

        Wolf, is Hopium a common street drug in San Francisco these days? When you walk out the front door of your building are you besieged by a pack of street dealers whispering ” pst– “the best Hopium, 100% pure—” ??

        Because for sure is no evidence of moment toward some sort normality where “things get cleared up with the processes we have in place.” Just to take one example, the rule of law. Laws only apply to the little people. For everyone in the ruling class the Jon Corizine rule applies. Purchase your immunity in advance by buying a pet politician, then steal and defraud with impunity, secure in the knowledge that there will be no real consequences. Or invent a system of property registration that ignores law and precedent (MERS), use it to securitize fraudulent derivatives and sell them to pension funds, foreclose upon millions of homes which you have no valid title to, and then sell them to hedge funds. Exactly how many such instances of bankster fraud did the Obama justice department prosecute?

        Do you really think that choosing a lifelong grifter who had sold her soul to every war hawk and 14th century monarchy with a checkbook would have put us on the course toward a functioning democracy and an economy not structured to only benefit a few oligarchs?

        “There is no problem that I write about that cannot be addressed with—” disarming the Empire’s machine for perpetual warfare, seizing the wealth and power of the ruling class and redistributing it, and restoring economic and political democracy in the US.

      • JZ says:

        Wolf, it is your wishful thinking because it is against human nature. The whole reason behind social and market structure is for participants to exploit each other and natural select winner and losers. If everything is happening in an orderly way, then there will be NO exploitation, NO wealth transfer. That’s why people take all kinds of risks to compete each other out and try to let others take the beating when the shit hit the fan. The most orderly nation in the world will be Japan given the human density and limited resources. Even they did NOT make the orderly exit in 1990.

  6. Kiers says:

    You know, there’s been a LOT of asking around: what is going to be the catalyst of the next crash? well, the classic ticker has STARTED…albeit in silence: F-R-A-U-D!

    BTW did you catch the fun with Blackstone:

  7. Paulo says:

    I wonder if Dollar Store is planning to change names?

    (I had to put in a zero hedge comment). Couldn’t resist.

    Surprsied at this? Nothing is surprising these days.

  8. Bobber says:

    It seems the only people making money in this market are the shady and the stupid.

    I’d sit back and laugh if the Fed weren’t trying to steal my children’s education fund and my housing fund.

  9. Gian says:

    Precisely why I do not buy stocks. I am not blessed with insider information.

  10. andy says:

    If bankers and the CEOs keep going like this, Martha Stewart may just end up in jail. You know, to make an example of.

  11. timbers says:

    Time for that 15% Fed funds rate simeone advocated earlier? After all that would the Fed version of working people voting for Trump instead of the corrupt criminal warmongering Wall Street candidate, right? There is no known example of the Fed not bowing to Mr. Market hissy fits in the recent past. This year should be very clarifying as to what the Fed really means this time.

  12. Lee Blockchain or CryptoIOchain says:

    Wolf wanted me to change my name, like add an X, so now I will change it to Blockchain or CryptoIOchain.

  13. Obosrantos says:

    I’m thinking of creating a PonziCoin. Buy one @ $1M valuation and get one free. PonziCoins will be traded at the IYF “Invite-Your-Friend” exchange. First 100 to join the exchange will raffle a trip to the “La La” land …. !!!

  14. mean chicken says:

    Someone pays the SEC well for their fine work, nice job!

  15. mean chicken says:

    Can someone please post a link to where we can purchase freshly minted Kodak wooden nickles?

    • MC01 says:

      If you are quick and have a credit card at the ready you can still find a brand new Kodak smartphone.
      What, you didn’t know Kodak made smartphones? I am not surprised.

      Named after the famous Ektra line of cameras, it was released in Europe in December 2016 to much fanfare.
      However as soon as the enthusiastic paid-for reviews were replaced by opinions written by those who had actually ponied up the cash, reality surfaced.
      To cut a long story short it was a very expensive and not particularly good smartphone. In fact it was so expensive even after a series of massive discounts by both Kodak itself and stockists anxious to get rid of a poorly marketable item it is still considerably more expensive than a far more capable Xiaomi smartphone.

      As always I am surprised that nobody was forced to resign or uncerimoniously fired: before the “blockchain” dog and pony show Kodak wasn’t exactly Apple, Amazon or Alphabet. It was a penny stock (as defined by SEC) which had barely emerged from a difficult bankruptcy.
      The culture of unaccountability at corporate level is reaching such heights one has to wonder what shareholders have been imbibing.

      • Tim says:

        The default is the ‘systemic fault’ or ‘systemic error’ rationalization created (?) by Tom Peters et al. That is, no one (in upper management) can ever be held accountable for any screw up, because, hey, it was a systemic error, no personal fault (by any directors). The get out of jail free card, ‘it was a systemic error’. And so decisions are structured so that the ‘systemic fault’ can be used in the event of failure.

        Financial crisis? No problems. It was ‘systemic’. No one goes to jail.

  16. MD says:

    Real engineering replaced by financial engineering.

    Tale of the tape for countries that have embraced dead-end neoliberal financial policies geared up to reward only the speculator not the productive, and in which factories have been replaced by warehouses.

    Why so surprised..?

  17. Gershon says:

    Why don’t we just abolish the worthless SEC and the rest of our captured, complicit regulators and enforcers? That way at least retail investors won’t have any illusions that these rigged, broken, manipulated markets are in any way legitimate.

  18. osmill says:

    They give us those nice bright colors
    They give us the greens of summers
    Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
    I got a Nikon camera
    I love to take a photograph
    So mama don’t take my KodakCoin away

    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin away
    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin away
    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin away

    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin
    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin
    Mama don’t take my KodakCoin away

  19. Steve clayton says:

    Hi wolf, hope youre well. If possible please could you do an article on zombie companies. Can’t believe the massive number of companies who are kept on life support paying just the interest on their debts to their lenders. This issue will become bigger with interest rates going up.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Zombie companies that are losing a ton of money and are kept alive only by new money from investors/lenders, like Tesla, Snap, Uber, Blue Apron, and the like? Or zombie companies like Sears? Or zombie companies like PE-firm-owned retailers, such as Toys R Us? If that’s what you mean, I’ve covered some of those :-]

      • Steve clayton says:

        Hi wolf, not so much the big companies who are always in the news, it’s the huge number of companies small or medium who are in this position. The story I’ve read is that 20% of all US companies would seriously start struggling if interest rates start rising. Is that correct?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          If have not seen that report, but it could be about right. Highly leveraged companies are going to find it tougher and more costly to service their debts in an environment where high-risk debt pays investors/banks adequately for taking those credit risks along with the risks of inflation and duration.

          This has not been the case in years, and is not the case today. So when it does happen, it is going to cause some debt restructuring, that’s for sure.

        • Tim says:

          Take a look in the Russel 2000 for such companies. Lots of zombies there.

        • OSP says:

          I would think the new tax laws should finish off a lot of these guys with the caps on interest deductions

    • MC01 says:

      If you want a peek into the wonderful world of true zombie companies, do a few searches about airlines.
      While there are profitable ones (such as Ryanair and Wizz), many have such horrific financials you have to wonder how do they stay in business… in the case of Gulf carriers you also have to wonder how local legislation work, as reported financial data often seem sketchy or even doctored.
      To give an example Etihad Airways has never reported how many ney profits or losses it piled up until it was leaked in 2016 alone they had accumulated losses for US $1.87 billion.
      Since the company is fully owned by the UAE government and is basically run by people handpicked by the Khalifa family the extreme sketchiness of financial reporting doesn’t matter much and surely isn’t illegal, but one has to wonder how long will this company be able to throw money out of the window the way it does.
      The high turnover among CFO’s in the last three years is not encouraging.

      • Tim says:

        They stay in business because of security state interests. Air travel/transport is a security state interest, planes must fly.

        • OSP says:

          And sheiks must be able to conveniently get to the casino

        • Duke DeGuise says:

          Or out of the US after major terrorist attacks…

        • MC01 says:

          Please check the conspiracy theories at the door, thank you. There’s already enough going on in plain daylight to keep us busy for a lifetime and more.

          And the “sheiks” have no need of mere airliners to move about: a glance at FlightRadar24 or similar websites followed by a quick Internet search will turn out many aircraft (usually Boeing 737 and 767 with a sprinkling of Airbus models and the occasional 747) with exotic-sounding transpoder codes are owned by either government departments or “air service companies” headquartered in such cities as Jedda, Doha, Muscate and Abu Dhabi.

          Not unlike Russian oligarchs of old, many Gulf grandees move around with large entourages, which include personnel ranging from heavily armed bodyguards to their personal physicians, and you cannot cram all that people in a Gulfstream. ;-)

        • Duke DeGuise says:

          Did the federal government permit a large group,of prominent Saudi nationals to fly out of the country when the rest of the aviation system was grounded after 9/11?

          Yes, indeed it did, thank you, so it’s not a conspiracy theory, but a widely reported and documented fact.

          I’m far from a 9/11 Truther, but the facts are the facts: most of the people on those planes were Saudi nationals, and high-status Saudi nationals were given extra special treatment in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

          You can read into it what you will, but you can’t credibly deny it by calling it a conspiracy theory.

        • Tim says:

          I was referring to other governments, actually, the bad financials of airlines is/are wide spread. It’s not a conspiracy. They really have poor financials, and they are kept flying any way. Decade after decade.

  20. Marco says:

    Must be nice to be above the law – and have the law only apply to “little people”.

    Is Erik Holder still attorney general ? The corporate doormat who would lie down after meetings in his office, and let the War Party corporate heads wipe their feet on his back before leaving ?

  21. JM Keynes says:

    – The SEC is useless. Because these guys use their information to their own advantage. The SEC will only act when one wealthy person has lost tonnes of money.
    – This proves for me that all these crypto-currencies are just scams, Ponzi schemes.

  22. Petunia says:

    On a technical note, if you think the Bitcoin blockchain is slow to transact, just wait for the snail pace of the blockchain made up of graphic files. The storage costs alone should be mind boggling, then there’s the backup sites…

  23. Bobo says:

    It’s possible that the terminal phase is here, when corruption goes to infinity and impunity is total. It’s an inevitable outcome of a financial system that’s almost completely unregulated. The rackets become bolder all the time as the racketeers note that no one is ever punished for anything, apart from paying a small fine on rare occasions. Most of the financial media is right there, cheering from the sidelines, encouraging the bagholders to buy in at the top.

    • JohnnyZ says:

      The system is heavily regulated, just not to the average Joe’s advantage.

  24. Enrique says:

    Not that I would trust any politician from any current/conceivable political orientation to do this to a degree of greater than….. uh, zero percent.

    But I’d be pretty long on the concept of someone at some point working a modern-day version of the “Progressive Reform” movement centred around locking up corporate scumbags for shenanigans like this.

    See, also, Equifax and about 9,000 other examples of completely unpunished scumbaggery

  25. Just another Elitist says:

    Now perhaps the real reason for the “Trump Bump” becomes clear.

    After years of continuing to flood the world with cheap (essentially free) money long after the need for extreme measures had ended, the Fed has effectively destroyed the markets’ historic pricing function. This, coupled with the present administration’s openly stated commitment to significantly limit the government’s regulatory activities as a matter of principle, has given us the 21st century version of the Tulip Era. Throw in a tax reform bill heavily favoring corporate and individual asset owners and we’re off to the races.

    You are a very thoughtful guy, Wolf; I learn from you and I am a long term fan. You try to avoid discussions of politics and stick to business and economics and I think that’s a good thing. But just ask yourself why it is that regulators, members of congress, Fed governors and many other less visible functionaries shrink from their basic responsibilities, even redefine their roles and then guide their actions and inactions according to the old saw: “go along to get along.” And its more than a matter of job security – its fear.

    God bless the ambassador to Panama, a veteran, a true patriot and a man of principle. We need more like him – many more.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The biggest regulatory failures happened long before Trump was even on the political scene, including the lead-up to the Financial Crisis. These regulatory failures were the result of “captured” regulators, the best Congress that money can buy, and a series of administrations that let it happen, or encouraged it to happen for reasons of their own. This has become a long-standing tradition in the US. It’s not a straight line but comes in uneven waves.

      • Javert Chip says:


        You mention in the article “The filings also indicate that some of the RSUs have been “disposed of” already” – how do RESTRICTED stock units get disposed of?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Per the filings of the Chairman, addressing the 16,340 “disposed of” RSUs:


          “These restricted stock units convert into common stock on a one-for-one basis. Upon vesting on 1/9/2018, Mr. Continenza deferred the receipt of 16,340 shares of common stock and received instead 16,340 shares of phantom stock pursuant to the terms of the Eastman Kodak Company Deferred Compensation Plan for Directors (the “Plan”). As a result, Mr. Continenza is reporting the disposition of 16,340 shares of common stock in exchange for an equal number of shares of phantom stock under the Plan.”

    • RangerOne says:

      My impression of how Congress and Presidents impact the financial markets seems to simply be a series chaotic decisions many of which are made to avoid short term pain or achieve short term gain.

      No single President or Congress owns the economy at any point in time since there are to many long term variables in play. Though that doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to assign some blame when I’ll effects are realize due to clear administrative decisions.

      That being said whatever attitude Trump’s administration has towards regulation seems mostly based on the prevailing desires of the GOP dialed up to 11. Trump doesn’t really appear to understand the economy or have a grand vision that he is capable of implenting. He made a decent sales pitch to the public if you appreciate his style but most of the excitement in the markets simply appears to be from the expected easing of regulation accross the board and a potentially more pliable inexperienced executive branch.

  26. DK says:

    Another member of the block chain gang. Perhaps crypto currency, given another year os so, will be the straw that breaks the back?

  27. Lets not confuse block chain and bitcoin, block chain is a B2B product, which has no retail footprint, it works in the background. If you want to loan your brotherinlaw some money and you don’t want him to spend it on liquor you write in a block chain code. This bitcoin is not good at any liquor store. So far the two technologies have not come to a common purpose.

  28. Bobo says:

    How about a new measure of manias, called the Hype-O-meter, that measures the companies/trends with the biggest disconnect between current price and fundamental value. As it is now anything could be worth any price just because one idiot was willing to pay that much. People need a measure of fundamental value that can’t be manipulated.

  29. Nick Kelly says:

    If Walmart did this it might be a different story.
    What really is the diff between 10 dollars and a ten dollar credit at W?
    Wally would like to have a bank, how about a currency?

    When sales were slow they could devalue it, kind of like Canada.

  30. Duke DeGuise says:

    Bitcoin is hyped as digital money, but that ignores the fact that money is already digital. Bitcoin is hyped as anonymous and private, but if you want privacy, you can use cash.

    The energy use for Bitcoin mining and verifying, combined with the fact that the “work” performed to produce Bitcoin is totally pointless, is waste on an immense scale, and not emphasized enough.

    Just incredible how the hype/hustle/self-delusion cycle progresses. Bitcoin was supposed to to be anonymous, but it’s not; it’s transaction costs were supposed to be near zero, but they’re not; the transaction times were supposed to be almost instantaneous,but they’re not; it was supposed to be an almost friction-free means of transacting and storing value, but it’s not; in fact the embedded costs are astronomically higher than the current system, with dubious benefits.

    Please tell me again how this is going to Change Everything.

  31. Raymond CHARLES Rogers says:

    I’ve gone from the opinion that these crypto currencies allow for money laundering transactions to these are the money laundering transactions themselves.

    Where is all this capital coming from? We are not talking about a scheme here or there, but thousands of small operations that have been able to raise various amounts of capital.

    With each stimulus program, much of this makes its way into the underground economy. What better way for these people to clean things up than by starting a crypto “product”. Dark money is used to drive prices up, and the small pullbacks are not really not losses but a limit to profits.

    Maybe this does not apply to this specific case, but the amount of money flying around is mind boggling.

  32. Kay says:

    The US Constitution makes it illegal to create your own currency.

Comments are closed.