The Internal Revenue Service has been seizing money from the bank accounts of individuals and businesses with no proof of any crimes nor any charges filed.
Now, the IRS claims that it will stop — but will it?
Using a law, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000, that allows the feds to seize money from suspected gangsters, drug dealers and terrorists, the IRS has put innocent people into bankruptcy and massive debt and taken the money a military father saved from his paychecks to put his kids through college, solely by tracking the amounts that people put into their bank accounts.
When no criminal activity is charged, The New York Times reports, the IRS often negotiates to return only part of the seized money, leaving impoverished citizens with little option but to either accept the IRS’ offer or continue a lengthy and very expensive legal battle to try to get their legitimately earned money back.
The problem has been growing. The Institute for Justice estimates that from just 114 seizures in 2005, the IRS made 639 seizures in 2012, and in only 20 percent of the cases were any criminal charges ever pursued.
Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks report transactions larger than $10,000 to federal authorities, but also report a pattern of regular, smaller deposits which appear designed to get around the act. This alone can be enough to trigger a seizure, the Times reports, and banks filed over 700,000 “suspicious” reports last year.
One involved a 27-year-old Long Island candy and cigarette distribution company, Bi-County Distributors, which made daily cash deposits, usually under $10,000. When the IRS seized $447,000 from the company, it refused to return it, despite the fact that there was no crime to prosecute, and instead offered a partial settlement.
The company is now $300,000 in debt and attorney Joseph Potashnik told the Times, “I don’t think they’re (the IRS) really interested in anything. They just want the money.”
Army Sgt. Jeff Cortazzo was saving up for his daughters’ college education when the IRS seized $66,000 of his money – it cost him $21,000 to get the remainder back.
Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the IRS, said in a written statement
in response to the Times story, “After a thorough review of our structuring cases over the last year… IRS-CI will no longer pursue the seizure and forfeiture of funds associated solely with ‘legal source’ structuring cases unless there are exceptional circumstances justifying the seizure and forfeiture and the case has been approved at the director of field operations (D.F.O.) level.”
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