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Government’s asset forfeiture program deeply concerning, Part 2

| Apr 21, 2017 | Firm News

We noted recently that the IRS and its Criminal Investigation division are under strong figurative fire from Congress and myriad critics for the latter’s excessive zeal and troublesome tactics in what has essentially amounted for years to a shakedown of innocent business people across the country.

We pointed out in our April 19 post this flatly stunning government finding: the IRS power to commandeer the assets of alleged criminals pursuant to its seizure powers under the civil asset forfeiture program has actually taken money and property from legitimate businesses in more than 90 percent of sampled investigations.

The CI unit’s power to act traces to the federal Bank Secrecy Act, which references the concept of “structuring.” To criminal tax agents, that means the unlawful attempt by a business owner to engage in a pattern of deposits less than $10,000, which eliminates reporting requirements to the IRS. The tax agency says that businesses that routinely make such deposits frequently derive their profits from unlawful activities like money laundering and drug trafficking.

Although that may be the case, it doesn’t hide the fact that the IRS’ performance relevant to asset seizure has been dismal as measured by any yardstick. Strong congressional scrutiny and probes have forced material changes in policy twice in recent years. And a recent government investigation revealed that business owners subjected to seizure have most often been entirely legitimate entities such as restaurants, gas stations and jewelry stores that are simply making routine deposits.

And here’s a deep and eminently concerning problem: Many wrongly targeted businesses that have suffered asset seizures have never gotten their property back.

Congress has noted that, with recent hearings resulting in communications from the CI to about 1,800 business owners soliciting their petitions for a return of money that was taken from them.

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