by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The IRS has seized $43 million from more than 600 individuals by accusing them of violating “structuring” laws even when there has been no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to testimony heard at the House Ways and Means Committee today.
In 2012, two armed IRS agents went to the farm of Randy Sowers, a dairy farmer for over three decades, to notify him that the IRS had seized the business’ bank account, which held more than $60,000. The agents told Sowers the IRS had done so because of structuring laws.
When an individual conducts a cash transaction in excess of $10,000, according to federal law, the bank must file a currency transaction report with the Treasury Department. It is unlawful for an individual to break up or “structure” cash deposits into amounts below $10,000 to avoid federal currency reporting.
“At that point, I had never before heard the term ‘structuring,’ and I had no idea that depositing cash in the bank could even potentially be a federal crime,” Sowers said. “Nobody from the bank or the government warned me that under-$10,000 bank deposits could lead to the seizure of our bank account. Indeed, nobody from the government contacted me about our bank deposits until after they seized our bank account.”
“I was shocked that the government would even consider bringing criminal charges when I had done nothing wrong,” Sowers said. “The IRS agents who came to the farm told me that the judge who approved the seizure had given them the authority to take anything up to $243,455—the amount of cash deposited in the account over a period of eight months.”
Robert Johnson, a lawyer working with Sowers who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, filed a petition to the IRS to retrieve the seized money. Ten months have since passed and the government has not responded.
“So-called ‘structuring’ laws criminalize everyday financial transactions that most Americans would never think could be a crime,” explained Johnson, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm. “A person who has violated this latter prohibition is said to have impermissibly ‘structured’ cash transactions.”