The media recently profiled another large civil asset forfeiture case, much like the Hirsch Brothers and the restaurant owner. This particular case involved a North Carolina man who has owned a convenience store since 2001. Last July, the IRS seized $107,000 from his bank account.
The owner, Lyndon McLellan, was visited by the FBI, who informed him that his habit of depositing less than $10,000 cash on repeated occasions drew suspicion by the government, also known as “structuring”. What started as a means to go after drug trafficking and money laundering has entangled many American citizens in recent years who have had their money seized under suspicion of criminal activity.
Recently, several cases have received substantial news coverage, resulting in the IRS, and then the Department of Justice changing their policy of asset forfeiture; now, no assets will be seized without an actual tie to a crime. Suspicion of activity is not enough anymore.
The plight of his latest victim of asset forfeiture was given several “opportunities” to settle with the government for a partial return of his money. The owner, who had done nothing wrong — since much of his business was run in cash — refused each offer. Three days after his story gained national coverage, the government dropped their case against him, citing the IRS and DoJ policy change. The owner had never been charged formally with anything. McLellan was fortunate; in such cases, the burden is on the victim to prove his innocence.
The Institute for Justice has been successfully representing many of these victims of civil asset forfeiture. However, “though the government will return all of the money it seized from McLellan, it dismissed the case without covering the store owner’s legal fees and expenses, as well as interest on the money.
In 2000, Congress passed a law that entitles McLellan to those fees and expenses, which total more than $20,000.
Additionally, government policies require the $107,702 seized is kept in an interest-bearing account. Though McLellan will receive the money, the government wants to keep the interest earned.”
Though the new policy reforms will hopefully keep from ensnaring more innocent Americans, others have not been so lucky.
In recent years, seizures executed because of structuring violations have increased dramatically. In 2005, the Internal Revenue Service made just 114 structuring seizures. By 2012, that number had risen to 639. During that same time period, the agency seized $242 million for structuring violations.
While banks must submit reports to the Department of the Treasury for cash deposits of more than $10,000, the government also receives “suspicious activity reports” on deposits below that threshold.
It’s likely the government received a suspicious activity report detailing McLellan’s deposits, which is how he “came onto the government’s radar.”
Also, “the IRS frequently teams up with local law enforcement to look through suspicious activity reports. By seizing property and money through the Department of Justice’s Equitable Sharing Program, law enforcement agencies share the proceeds of the forfeiture.”
Though Lyndon McLellan is supposed to receive his $107,000, he may still have to wait several more months. By July, the government will have held his money for a year. It’s amazing what a little sunlight and media coverage on these unconstitutional seizures can do for the government to come to its senses.