Michigan Civil Forfeiture-Media Advisory 2-19-14
Federal Court Holds Hearing on Motion to Dismiss Forfeiture Fight
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 / 2:30 p.m.
Before Judge Terrence G. Berg U.S. District Courthouse 600 Church Street Flint, MI
Larry Salzman, Attorney, Institute for Justice
Clark Neily, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice
John Kramer, IJ VP for Communications, (703) 682-9320 ext. 205
May the government take your money when you’ve done nothing wrong? That’s the question at the heart of a hearing on Wednesday, February 19, that will decide if a Michigan case challenging the practice of civil forfeiture brought by a family-owned grocery store and an independent gas station owner against the IRS will move forward.
Terry and Sandy Dehko and Mark Zaniewski are small business owners that have done nothing wrong—in fact, they have never in their lives been charged with a crime. Yet the IRS seized $35,000 from the Dehkos’ and more than $71,000 from Mr. Zaniewski’s businesses’ bank accounts because it wrongly deemed their banking deposits suspicious. It then held that money for nearly a year without giving the entrepreneurs a hearing to contest the seizure.
Like many small business owners, Terry, Sandy and Mark receive cash every day from their customers. Their commonsense practice has always been to make frequent cash deposits to avoid letting too much cash accumulate at their businesses. Federal law requires banks to report cash transactions above $10,000, and it is illegal to “structure” cash deposits for the purpose of avoiding this requirement.
The IRS obtained a secret warrant in 2013 and cleaned out the businesses’ bank accounts on the grounds that their frequent cash deposits violated federal “structuring” law. The government never charged the business owners with any crime and, until pressured by this lawsuit, refused to return their money. Like a bully that wants to escape a trip to the principal’s office after he is caught menacing smaller kids, the government wants the case dismissed because it gave Terry, Sandy and Mark’s money back—but the entrepreneurs are continuing the fight to protect themselves against future seizures and to make it clear that it is not illegal for small businesses to make frequent deposits of cash in their banks when they have a legitimate business reason for doing so.
“This case is bigger than Terry and Sandy Dehko and Mark Zaniewski; this is about protecting private property from forfeiture abuse for Americans everywhere,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Larry Salzman. The Institute for Justice represents the Dehkos and Zaniewski in these cases. “We are prepared to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to vindicate the right to private property for Americans everywhere.”