July 25, 2016

The current generation can tell you stories about crawling into the industrial-sized ovens as children (while the ovens were off, of course) and riding the trays like a carousel. Now they work around the clock to keep the bakery going, baking at night and working retail through the day.

The family’s nightmare started in May 2013, when eight armed IRS agents descended on the bakery and began asking questions about a series of under-$10,000 cash deposits (the bakery was a cash-only business). The agents informed the Vocaturas they had seized the bakery’s entire bank account.

When IJ met the Vocaturas, they had almost given up hope. Federal prosecutors and the IRS had been hounding the family for years, first seizing over $68,000 and then threatening the Vocaturas with additional forfeitures and time in prison—all because of how they deposited money in the bank.

But IJ was able to turn the situation around and in the process was able to help other small businesses facing similar abuse.

As regular readers of Liberty & Law are aware, IJ has litigated a series of similar cases involving “structuring” laws. These laws—which make it a crime to limit the size of bank deposits to evade federal reporting requirements—were designed to target real criminals but have been applied to small businesses accused only of doing business in cash.

As news reports about IJ’s prior structuring cases began to generate substantial public outrage, federal prosecutors handling the Vocaturas’ case apparently decided to lie low. For about a year, the Vocaturas heard nothing from the government.

But then, in February 2016, the government reappeared. This time, prosecutors were demanding that the Vocaturas plead guilty to criminal structuring charges. Under the proposed plea agreement, the Vocaturas would have faced 37 to 46 months’ imprisonment and would have had to forfeit an additional $160,000 on top of the $68,000 already seized.

Enter IJ. For years, the government had been holding the Vocaturas’ money without bring- ing its case before a judge. To subject the government to much-needed judicial oversight, IJ filed suit in federal court demanding the return of the bakery’s $68,000.

The change in the government’s attitude was speedy and profound. Within hours, the government announced that it would return the $68,000. Whereas not long ago the government had been demanding an additional $160,000, now the government was tripping over itself to give the Vocaturas’ money back.

And the change did not stop there. Not long after the Vocaturas’ case was discussed at a congressional oversight hearing, the IRS announced that it was sending letters to 700 property owners who had money seized under the structuring laws—informing them that they could petition the IRS to get their money back. This announcement was inspired by IJ’s use of such petitions in previous cases.

The government is happy to take money in private, beyond public scrutiny. But IJ exists to drag the government into the light, where its actions can be judged. For the Vocaturas—and hundreds of other property owners—that has made all the difference.

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