The practice of asset forfeiture by the IRS has been highlighted in recent months due to a high-profile case involving a woman who had roughly $33,000 of her money seized by the IRS. The IRS claimed her “pattern” of depositing the money she earned from her restaurant — typically cash and often in sums under $10,000 — was suspicious enough to warrant the plundering of her account.
Several weeks after the public outcry about this woman’s plight, the IRS dropped the case and agreed to return her funds. But here’s the problem. It’s not enough to just give the money back. The IRS needs, at the very least, to pay civil damages. They took assets from a woman who committed no crime, who wasn’t even charged with any crime.
More importantly, the IRS needs to investigate how this case even came about. There was no preponderance of evidence that any crime occurred. There was virtually nothing. The case occurred because an IRS representative watched her accounts over a period of time, and decided – with no basis, investigation, or even inquiry with the taxpayer – that her method of deposits (for which she had a perfectly valid reason in connection with her perfectly legal, decades-owned business) violated a law typically meant to catch money launderers and drug dealers. That is reprehensible.
A few days after the article came out about the case, the IRS issued a policy change over the practice. The IRS stated, “the agency will no longer pursue asset forfeiture in cases in which the source of the funds is legal except in exceptional circumstances and only with the approval of the director of field operations.” This means nothing and changes nothing — because someone higher up on the IRS food chain can still sign off on cases, or when someone within the IRS deems it “an exceptional circumstance”. It’s not good enough.
If the IRS is sincere about regaining the public trust, it needs to clean house, starting with the agents involved in this and other similar forfeiture cases.