The IRS seized millions dollars from innocent individuals and businesses because it was easier than targeting terrorists and drug dealers, a new report from the Treasury Department’s internal watchdog has revealed.
A report from Treasury’s Inspector General found that the IRS misused a law aimed at cracking down on organized crime and terrorism to target innocent individuals and businesses. Agents adopted a policy of seizing cash before investigating for other wrongdoing because it was just easier to seize the money of innocent people than hardened criminals and terrorists.
“One of the reasons why legal source cases were pursued was that the Department of Justice had encouraged task forces to engage in ‘quick hits,’ where property was more quickly seized and more quickly resolved through negotiation, rather than pursuing cases with other criminal activity (such as drug trafficking and money laundering), which are more time-consuming,” according to the report .
The report looks at the IRS practice of seizing cash from businesses and individuals suspected of committing “structuring,” an illegal act that involves intentionally splitting up large sums of cash into amounts less than $10,000 to avoid a reporting requirement.
The policy against structuring came into law as part of the federal Bank Secrecy act. Its purpose was to assist the IRS in deterring criminal activity such as the sale of illegal drugs and terrorism.
While structuring is technically a crime, it was intended for use in cases in which the IRS had already detected the possibility of criminal activity. Despite this, the IRS pursued hundreds of cases of suspected structuring between 2012 and 2015 in which there was no evidence of criminal activity. Individuals and businesses that deposited cash in sums less than $10,000 were considered suspect.
“While the BSA does not distinguish between legal and illegal sources of funds, IRS procedures dictate that the overall purpose of its civil forfeiture program is to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises,” the report from Treasury’s Inspector General explains. “Most people impacted by the program did not appear to be criminal enterprises engaged in other alleged illegal activity; rather, they were legal businesses such as jewelry stores, restaurant owners, gas station owners, scrap metal dealers, and others.”
“Today’s report confirms that the IRS used civil forfeiture to seize millions of dollars from innocent business owners,” said attorney Robert Everett Johnson of the Institute for Justice, in a statement. “The IRS’s own internal watchdog found that the IRS had a practice of seizing entire bank accounts based on nothing more than a pattern of under-$10,000 cash deposits.”
The abuse of the IRS structuring enforcement power is taking a real toll on small business owners. In 2014, The New York Timesreported on the story about a woman from Iowa who runs a small, cash-only Mexican-restaurant. In 2013, IRS agents showed up at her restaurant and seized $33,000 from her, citing claims that she had violated the structuring policy.
H/t reader kevin a.
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