Anti-caffeine group admits running community-service scam

NEW YORK – An anti-caffeine activist based in Seattle pleaded guilty Thursday in a scheme to make court-ordered community service as easy as taking an online quiz.

Marina Kushner and the Caffeine Awareness Association, a group she founded, each pleaded guilty to a false-filing felony. Kushner’s promised sentence includes a $5,000 fine – and 300 hours of legitimate community service.

Kushner’s lawyer, Peter Schaffer, declined to comment Thursday.

Kushner, 47, was arrested recently in Delray Beach, Florida. While Manhattan prosecutors became suspicious after a local defendant filed a letter from the caffeine association to satisfy a community service sentence, questions also had arisen in Washington and Oregon about a “fast community service” website linked to the group.

Kushner has written various anti-caffeine e-books, and the Seattle-based association’s website echoes her message. The federal Food and Drug Administration advises being aware of how much caffeine one consumes through both beverages and food, but the agency notes that studies suggest moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful.

The Caffeine Awareness Association’s website also links to a page titled “quick community service.” On Thursday, it had a message saying it was down “due to some technical issues.”

The association offered letters certifying community service completion, charging fees based on the number of hours needed and requiring customers merely to take the online test, not pass it, prosecutors said.

As part of the New York plea agreement, the Caffeine Awareness Association will disband.

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