The seizure last year of $107,702 from North Carolina convenience store owner Lyndon McClellan is an example that civil asset forfeiture is not just about “fighting drug cartels”; it is a disrespect by the government for private property, and it turns the burden of proof from the government to the person accused of a crime.
McClellan has been told that he will get his money back from the IRS — eventually, although his lawyer said it could take months.
The IRS seized all the money in the bank account of McClellan’s L & M Convenience Mart in Fairmont, North Carolina, and accused him of committing “structuring violations,” though he was never charged with any crime.
It seems that McClellan had made many cash deposits of less than $10,000 into the store’s bank account. Under federal law, all deposits of more than $10,000 must be reported to the IRS. Since many money-laundering operations and drug traffickers skirt the law by making deposits under $10,000, this has become a crime. Most law-abiding Americans are unaware of such a law, assuming that making deposits into their own bank account violates no law.
Government officials do not actually have to prove any guilty intent by the person making the deposits; they simply work off assumptions. In McClellan’s case, while the government has dismissed the case against him and stated that it will eventually return all his money, he is left with legal fees and expenses that the government has no intention of paying.
Increasingly, innocent American citizens are faced with the dilemma of either fighting the government seizure of their assets (which would most likely cost more than the amount seized) or simply letting the government keep the money. The problem of civil assset forfeiture is now so serious that the Canadian government has warned its citizens not to carry cash into the United States, because U.S. officials do not presume innocence, but rather guilt when it comes to the money. And this is not about pocket change. Over $2.5 billion has already been confiscated from Canadians traveling inside the United States.