Arlington, Va.— More than three years ago, the IRS used civil forfeiture to seize more than $68,000 from Vocatura’s Bakery, a third-generation family bakery in Norwich, Connecticut. Now, the bakery’s long legal nightmare may be coming to an end, as the government has agreed to withdraw the grand jury subpoena that it issued in retaliation for the bakery’s refusal to voluntarily forfeit the seized cash.
The case began in May 2013 with an armed raid on the bakery. Government agents informed the Vocaturas that the IRS had seized the bakery’s entire bank account using civil forfeiture because the bakery had made a series of under-$10,000 cash deposits. The IRS claimed the deposits violated so-called structuring laws—laws that were intended to target real criminals but allow the IRS to seize the entire bank accounts of legitimate businesses.
During the next three years, the IRS sought to pressure the Vocaturas to voluntarily agree to forfeiture of the funds. Then, when the Vocaturas refused to consent, the IRS retaliated by launching a criminal tax investigation and serving the Vocaturas with a vastly overbroad grand jury subpoena demanding eight years’ worth of practically all business records for the bakery.
The Vocaturas, unwilling to give up their property when they felt they had done nothing wrong, joined with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit seeking the return of their $68,000. Hours after that lawsuit was filed, on May 24, 2016, the IRS announced it was giving the money back.
Yet, even as it agreed to return the money, the IRS indicated that it was moving forward with its retaliatory tax investigation.
On Tuesday, the IRS continued its retreat, as the federal prosecutor overseeing the case emailed to say that the IRS was withdrawing its grand jury subpoena.
“I’m happy the government is doing the right thing,” said David Vocatura, one of the bakery’s owners. “The past three years have been the longest in my life.”
“This is a prime illustration of the way civil forfeiture distorts law enforcement priorities,” said IJ attorney Robert Everett Johnson, who is representing Vocatura’s Bakery. “The IRS seized the Vocaturas’ money for no real reason and spent three years trying to find a way to keep it. Now, after putting the Vocaturas through the wringer, the IRS is walking away from a case it never should have started in the first place.”
The Institute for Justice is aided by local counsel Ross Garber of Shipman & Goodwin LLP. IJ is leading the fight against civil forfeiture nationwide. To learn more about this case and IJ’s national efforts, visit www.ij.org.