IRS Caught Violating Its Own Civil Forfeiture Policy; U.S. Attorney Admonishes Small Business Owner to Keep His Mouth Shut

Fairmont, N.C. —Lyndon McLellan has spent more than a decade running L&M Convenience Mart, a gas station, restaurant and convenience store in rural Fairmont, North Carolina. Then, almost one year ago, agents from the IRS came to the store and announced that they had seized his entire bank account, totaling more than $107,000.

Lyndon did nothing wrong, and the IRS has never alleged that he committed a crime—much less charged him with one. Despite this, in December 2014, the IRS and Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil forfeiture complaint in federal court, which, if successful, would allow them to keep Lyndon’s money permanently. The DOJ’s actions came months after the IRS announced a formal policy change prohibiting the agency from using civil forfeiture to take money from law-abiding citizens like Lyndon.

Yesterday, the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm leading the fight to end civil forfeiture, filed court documents contesting the IRS’s forfeiture of Lyndon’s money.

“This case demonstrates that the federal government’s recent reforms are riddled with loopholes and exceptions and fundamentally fail to protect Americans’ basic rights,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Robert Everett Johnson, who represents Lyndon. “No American should have his property taken by the government without first being convicted of a crime.”

In February 2015, during a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee, North Carolina Congressman George Holding told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen that he had reviewed Lyndon’s case—without specifically naming it—and that there was no allegation of the kind of illegal activity required by the IRS’s new policy. The IRS Commissioner responded, “If that cases exists, then it’s not following the policy.”

Watch the exchange here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16aYGRoswWw

When news of the IRS Commissioner’s statement got back to the United States Attorney in charge of Lyndon’s case, he advised Lyndon’s attorney and accountant that he was “concerned” that Lyndon’s case document was provided to Congress, and that:

Whoever made [the document] public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case. Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency. My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.

Lyndon is unwilling to give the government a single penny of his hard-earned money. As he puts it, “It took me 13 years to save that much money, and it took fewer than 13 seconds for the government to take it away.”

“As Congress is considering civil forfeiture reforms, it is clear that recent policy changes by the IRS and Department of Justice are not enough,” said Institute for Justice Attorney Wesley Hottot, who also represents Lyndon. “Lyndon is not a criminal; he’s a hardworking small business owner whose life has been turned upside down by the IRS and a prosecutor who does not seem to care about new policies designed to protect people like Lyndon. This is exactly why Congress needs to pass new laws to protect property owners.”

What the IRS is doing is not just wrong, it is also illegal. IJ has come to the defense of Americans nationwide to fight civil forfeiture, including the owners of the family-run Motel Caswell in Massachusetts , the owner of Marathon Gas in Michigan and a class of property owners in Philadelphia challenging that city’s forfeiture machine. In 2010, IJ published Policing for Profit , the landmark report on civil forfeiture. And in 2014, IJ published Seize First, Question Later, the definitive study on IRS structuring forfeitures.

Together with the Institute for Justice, Lyndon is fighting to get his money back. This legal challenge will not only vindicate Lyndon’s rights, but the right of all Americans to be free from arbitrary and unlawful seizure of their private property.

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