The War on Cash Destroys a Small Entrepreneur
By Joseph T. Salerno
Lyndon McClellan is a small entrepreneur who owns and operates L & M Convenience Mart in Fairmont, North Carolina. L & M comprises a gas station, convenience store, and a small restaurant serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and catfish sandwiches. One day last July, more than a dozen federal, state and local law enforcement agents swarmed Mr. McClellan’s business, including agents from the FBI and the North Carolina Alcohol and Law Enforcement agency—and they were “asking” for him. When Mr. McClellan arrived, he was escorted by two federal agents into his stock room for a private chat. The agents showed him paperwork indicating that he had made two cash deposits totaling $11,400 within a 24-hour period in his bank account at the Lumbee Guarantee Bank. They informed him that the papers also indicated that he had a history of “consistent cash deposits” of less than $10,000, which was a violation of the the Federal law against “structuring.” They also informed him that the IRS had seized all of the $107,702.66 in L & M’s bank account.
What Mr McClellan did not know was that it was against the law to make cash deposits of less than $10,000. Banks are legally obligated to report any deposit of more than $10,000 to the U.S. Treasury Department. But if an individual makes several cash deposits of less than $10,000 over an unspecified period of time that total more than $10,000, then he is presumed to be a money launderer or drug trafficker who is committing the dastardly crime of structuring, that is, seeking to circumvent the bank’s reporting requirement and maintaining the privacy of his financial affairs Thus banks are also required to file “suspicious activity reports” on cash deposits of less than $10,000. Based on these reports, if one is merely suspected–not convicted–of structuring, his bank account is seized by the IRS under “civil asset forfeiture” laws, which permits seizures of money or other property suspected of being related to a crime.
Government agencies have a financial incentive to invoke civil asset forfeiture laws because the law permits the seizing agency to keep the assets and use them to expand their activities without an appropriation from Congress. In its insatiable hunger for funds, the IRS even “deputizes” state and local law enforcement agencies to go through “suspicious activities reports” in exchange for a cut of the loot subsequently seized by the IRS. This is probably how a small entrepreneur like Mr. McClellan living peacefully in a sleepy hamlet was targeted for destruction in the War on Cash.
Months after the seizure of his bank account, the federal government offered Mr. McClellan 50 percent of his money back if he agreed to a settlement. He heroically refused and intends to pursue the matter in court. Unfortunately, under the oppressive and despotic “civil asset forfeiture” laws, he bears the burden of proving his innocence. But as he puts it:
It’s not fair to the American people who work for a living that one day they can knock on the door, walk in their businesses, and say, ‘We just took your money’ … I always thought your money was safe in the bank, but I wouldn’t say that now.
Neither would I!