The Growing Problem of Civil Forfeiture Abuse
Spirit Lake, Iowa: Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food has been owned and operated for 38 years by Carole Hinders. Carole has always preferred to accept only cash payments, so frequent bank deposits were necessary in order to keep from having too much cash on hand at her restaurant. One day in August 2013, the IRS unexpectedly seized her entire bank account, totaling just shy of $33,000. It was a clear-cut case of civil forfeiture abuse. Read more about it at Breitbart.
Long Island, New York: Bi-County Distributors has been owned by brothers Mitch and Richard Hirsch for 27 years. Their business distributes candy and snacks and other small food items to a number of convenience stores in their area. Many of their clients pay cash on delivery, so that means that they need to make frequent bank deposits for their own safety. Then one day in May, 2012, federal agents seized their entire business bank account, which contained a balance of around $446,000. The federal abuse of civil forfeiture laws was once again the root cause of the near ruination of yet another successful and legitimate family business.
Abusive Federal Authority Again
Those are just two of numerous examples of a growing form of abuse of federal authority. These two cases involved the confiscation of cash assets. Numerous other cases involve the confiscation of property in all forms.
If the term Civil Forfeiture means nothing to you yet, you had better start learning about it fast, especially if you operate business which accepts a significant amount of payment in cash. The IRS is on a mission to find any excuse they can to literally rob you of your hard earned money.
What is Civil Forfeiture?
Civil forfeiture is the act of government confiscation of your property with no accountability whatsoever on their part. All that’s necessary to trigger it is someone in a law enforcement agency who claims suspicion of a victim’s criminal involvement. Your property can be taken without you even being charged with any crime. Depending on conditions of the situation, your vehicle, your home, or all of the cash from your bank accounts could be taken.
Worse yet, because you have not been charged with a crime, civil forfeiture leaves you without the legal protection you would have enjoyed if you really were a criminal! Neither do any rules exist to control what the confiscating law enforcement agencies may do with the stolen, er, I mean, confiscated property.
One might reasonably expect your confiscated property to go into some kind of protected escrow status. But in fact, in 42 states, confiscating agencies simply keep what they have confiscated and use it as their own. No law regulates them. It makes no difference if it is cash, vehicles, real estate, or anything else.
Such a rule of law, if it can be called that, provides law enforcement agencies with an incentive to falsely seize as much property as they possibly can. And they do!
On what basis are bank account assets seized?
Federal law now requires that banks notify federal agencies whenever a cash sum totaling over $10,000 is made into any bank account. Such reporting is designed to tip off authorities to the possibility of illegal business acivity. The war on drugs has contributed to the motivation for such law and invasion of privacy. As invasive as that law is on personal business, did you know that your deposits may be under continual scrutiny by the IRS, whether or not you make deposits over $10k?
If you happen to have a business which generates a lot of income on a cash basis, you can be accused of “structuring” your deposits by consistently keeping them under $10k. There do not seem to be any guidelines for federal agents to use to define what constitutes “structuring”. If you make a series of large deposits of less than $10k, you might be accused of “structuring” your deposits to avoid IRS scrutiny.
In the act of IRS monitoring of your perfectly legal activity of depositing cash sums of several thousand dollars, you have already been scrutinized. In fact it seems perfectly logical that if you were already aware of the $10k trigger value, you might very well for your own good be attempting to structure your deposits to avoid being targeted as a possible illegal operation. Who wouldn’t want to avoid being targeted as an illegal operation, especially if you are really 100% legitimate?
Property owners who find themselves caught up in the forfeiture abuse system often spend weeks, months, sometimes years, without having an opportunity to appear before a judge. Too many victims are compelled to simply give up. They never did anything wrong, but it’s just too pointless and too expensive to continue fighting.
In one well documented analysis of federal civil forfeiture cases, it has been shown that 80 percent of those whose property the federal government seized were not charged with any crime. This is no better than legalized theft!
Make the federal government accountable, and stop the war on drugs
In order to stop the abuse of civil forfeiture, we clearly have two choices. The practice of civil forfeiture must either be totally abolished, or it must be carried out with accountability.
This abuse of property rights could easily be reduced by 80% by making the legitimate criminal arrest of every victim a prerequisite to property seizure.
“Legitimate” is a key word, and that’s why I lean towards its total abolition. Most cases of legally valid civil forfeiture revolve around illegal and victimless drug crimes. The legalization of drugs would result in the elimination of a vast part of the underground syndicate. Grounds would then no longer exist to prosecute the greater portion of the remaining 20% of civil forfeiture cases.
Then the federal government wouldn’t even need to take property away from people anymore, would it? Or did they ever really need to? Liberty makes life so much simpler.