You’re guilty until proven innocent—at least your money is if the Feds take it under sweeping ‘civil forfeiture’ laws. But this one businessman fought the law and got his cash back.
Fox News reported Friday that the Institute for Justice, which represents North Carolina convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan, announced that the IRS is returning $107,000.
The IRS seized the cash last October from McLellan’s store because they alleged he might be trying to avoid federal law requiring banks to report deposits of $10,000 or more.
The Feds believed McLellan might be ‘structuring’ his cash—a sign of criminal activity like drug dealing or terrorism, after he made a series of deposits just under $10,000.
But McLellan was doing no such thing, and he and his money will finally be reunited.
“What’s wrong is wrong, and what the government did here was wrong,” McLellan said in a statement Thursday. “I just hope that by standing up for what’s right, it means it won’t happen to other people.”
Civil forfeiture is big business for the Federal government, which has seized $2.5 billion in cash from almost 62,000 people—without warrants or indictments—since 2001, according to a Washington Post investigation. It’s unknown how many got their money back.
“There is no crime in this country for doing business in cash,” Robert Everett Johnson, lead attorney on McLellan’s case, said. “But the government treated Lyndon worse than a criminal, by taking his property and forcing him to prove his own innocence to get that property back.”
Some, like Joseph Rivers, 22, are still without their money. Rivers had his life savings of $16,000 which he carried on a train taken by DEA agents because DEA agents didn’t believe his story—that the money was for him to pursue his dream of a record producing career in Hollywood, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
“What this is, is having your money stolen by a federal agent acting under the color of law,” said Michael Pancer, a San Diego attorney who represents Rivers, an aspiring music video producer. “It’s a national epidemic. If my office got four to five cases just recently, and I’m just one attorney, you know this is happening thousands of times.”
McLellan struggled for months to recover his cash, while his business struggled and rumors flew that he was involved with drugs.
“Several people thought it was drug-related,” he told Fox News, “but when I told them what really happened they said, ‘How in the world can they take your money?’ That’s the answer I’ve been waiting on too.”
The IRS offered him 50 percent of his money two months ago, while warning him against “chasing publicity”—suggesting that might make people within the IRS unhappy. Strong-arm tactics like that are more like the Mafia than the IRS.
Scott Bullock, another attorney with the Institute for Justice, said in a statement Congress needs to pass “binding reform” to make sure there are no more McLellans at risk of losing all.