The IRS and the US Justice Department appear to be violating a new federal policy on the seizure of cash in bank accounts.
The IRS and a US attorney are moving forward with the seizure of all the money in convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan’s business account even though the case violates new federal rules.
During a hearing earlier this year, North Carolina Congressman George Holding told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen about the case, without mentioning it by name.
“If that case exists, then it’s not following the policy,” Koskinen responded.
The IRS and the Justice Department had announced they would limit the seizure of money from bank accounts to cases in which actual criminal activity was suspected. The new rule took place after a New York Times article from last year exposed seizure abuses in which every day law-abiding Americans got caught up in a law intended to stop criminals.
McLellan had his entire bank account — all $107,702 of it — seized via civil forfeiture in Summer 2014. He is being represented by the Institute for Justice.
“It took me 13 years to save that much money, and it took fewer than 13 seconds for the government to take it away,” McLellan said.
When federal agents told him they were taking his money, he “pleaded that he had outstanding checks to vendors, and that the checks were going to bounce if they emptied out the account,” the Institute said in a press release.
But the agents said there was nothing they could do.
McLellan made the money selling catfish sandwiches, gasoline and soda pop at his small town store, L&M Convenience Mart, in Fairmont, North Carolina.
The IRS took the money because McLellan had made large numbers of cash deposits of less than $10,000 a practice it considers structuring – a money laundering technique. News reports indicate that small business owners all over the country have had bank accounts emptied because of structuring allegations.
But McLellan and his niece only did it to “make life easier for everyone at the bank,” the Institute says.
“A bank teller told his niece (who typically makes the deposits for the business) that depositing less than $10,000 would avoid unnecessary paperwork burdens,” the Institute for Justice said. “Neither Lyndon nor his niece had any interest in hiding from the IRS.”
The government should not be pursuing forfeiture against McLellan, but has refused to back down even following the comments from the IRS commissioner. In fact, McLellan even could be facing retaliation from a US attorney for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech by releasing the form he received from the government. After the United States attorney in charge of McLellan’s case, Steve West, heard of Commissioner Koskinen’s testimony, West sent the following email, according to the Institute:
“Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case,” West wrote. “Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.”
It sounds as if West is trying to silence McLellan, but the business owner is not backing down and wants all of his money back. He may have made a US attorney mad, but he’s winning in the court of public opinion.