As a neurologist at Mercy Medical Center in Mason City, Iowa, Alireza Yarahmadi has helped patients with epilepsy, sleep disorders and strokes. Now he can add another line to his CV: civil forfeiture victim.
Last June, the IRS seized $344,405 from the Iowa doctor’s account, alleging that he frequently withdrew cash in amounts under $10,000 to put into safety deposit boxes. Banks have to report any cash transactions of $10,000 or more. Meanwhile, it’s against federal law to “structure” deposits in amounts under $10,000 for the purpose of evading that reporting requirement. Moreover, under civil forfeiture laws, the government does not have to convict or charge people with a crime to take their cash and other valuables.
Yarahmadi denied he was “structuring” his deposits and insisted in court documents that “the money was not derived from, proceeds of, used in connection with, or otherwise related in any way to criminal activity.” He is also suspicious of banks, because his family lost their savings during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Yarahmadi is not alone. According to a new report by the Institute for Justice, “Seize First, Question Later,” between 2005 and 2012, the IRS seized roughly $242 million for alleged “structuring” in about 2,500 cases. Half of the seizures were under $34,000. Remarkably, in at least a third of all cases, merely making transactions under $10,000 triggered an IRS seizure; no additional wrongdoing was alleged.
Last fall, after the Institute for Justice began representing innocent entrepreneurs from abusive seizures in two cases, the IRS announced a new policy, claiming it would “no longer pursue the seizure and forfeiture of funds associated solely with ‘legal source’ structuring cases,” i.e. money that was lawfully obtained. During a congressional hearing last week, the IRS Commissioner even apologized to “anyone who got caught up in this.”
That policy change also prompted Yarahmadi’s attorney, Gail Brashers-Krug, to urge prosecutors to drop his case, calling it “a miscarriage of justice.” On Feb. 3, 2015, a federal judge dismissed the civil forfeiture case against Yarahmadi’s cash.
— Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice