by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
As I reported last week, North Carolina’s asset forfeiture policy is one of the very best in the country. However, that doesn’t mean North Carolinians don’t have to worry about asset forfeiture abuse. Despite the reforms announced in January, the Department of Justice’s continues its agressive forfeiture program, and North Carolinians have been among its recent victims. I’ve already written about Lyndon McLellon, a gas station owner from Fairmont, NC, who had $107,000 seized because he’d made several many bank deposits that the IRS thought were suspiciously close to the reporting threshold of $10,000. Now, according to a report in the News and Observer, a Raleigh couple has suffered a similar fate:
Tom and Marla Bednar will get back about $115,000 that the federal government took from them suddenly last year. They doubt they’ll ever be able to reclaim their reputation in the precious-metals business that has been their livelihood for 30 years.
The U.S. Secret Service looked at their Capital Bank business bank account and saw several withdrawals “just under” the $10,000 limit at which banks must report transactions to the government….
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven A. West used the agency’s report to ask for a federal warrant to take everything in their business accounts, and he got it….
The Bednars’ attorneys said in court papers that the report did not give a fair picture of activity in the bank account. “The declaration failed to note that, during the same period, the Bednars engaged in multiple cash transactions that exceeded $10,000.”
For their business, the Bednars bought precious metals from pawn brokers, auction houses, second-hand shops and the like, melted down the metal and then resold it to refiners. Tom Bednar said those transactions were often in cash….
Now, as they await the return of their money, the couple is selling off valuables they had put aside for their retirement….
“Every American should be alarmed by this law,” Bednar said. “They seize first and ask questions later…. They’re going to do it over and over and over again until the law is changed.”…
The U.S. attorney’s office said through a spokesman that it considered the Bednar case to be an open investigation and would not comment on it or on the use of civil forfeitures generally. A spokesman for the Secret Service in Raleigh also declined to comment on the case.
But Tom Bednar is talking and he wants to talk to Congress. He wants a chance to testify about what happened to him and his wife.