Civil asset forfeiture cries out for reform
By WASHINGTON EXAMINER • 2/22/16 12:03 AM
This is the story of how an immigrant worked hard, played by the rules and realized the American dream, only to have the federal government vaporize it.
In 1997, Khalid “Ken” Quran immigrated to the United States and opened a convenience store in Greenville, N.C.. The married father of four spent the next 17 years working seven days a week at the store, raising his family (all of whom graduated from college and became American citizens) and saving money for his retirement.
Then in 2014, the Internal Revenue Service seized Quran’s entire bank account, worth more than $150,000, under civil asset forfeiture laws. Quran was accused of making bank deposits of smaller than $10,000, which the IRS saw as violating “structuring” laws. Such laws are designed to capture individuals and businesses that try to evade bank-reporting laws.
Quran hasn’t even been charged with a crime, much less convicted. But nor has he been given his money back. In fact, according to a recent report by the Institute for Justice, for six months, the IRS has refused to reply to a petition asking it to return its ill-gotten gains to their rightful ownen, Quran.
Quran is not alone in this predicament. His petition includes the case of Randy Sowers, a Maryland dairy farmer from whom the IRS confiscated nearly $30,000 for similar reasons.
The IRS and Justice Department have since reformed their policies on structuring violations. But that hasn’t helped Quran and hundreds of others like him whose lives are on hold because of government predation.
Quran’s story highlights the need for civil asset forfeiture reform. Civil asset forfeiture is an instrument that government uses to seize money or property it suspects of being involved in a crime.
Law enforcement agencies have used it, however, to seize property (not just money but homes, cars, jewelry, electronics and more) on suspicion rather than actual evidence of criminal activity. The targeted individual or business need not be charged or convicted before the feds expropriate their hard-earned fortune, however small. The property is forfeited unless and until the target can prove his or her innocence. This runs counter to the basic constitutional principle of presumption of innocence.
Seized assets are, of course, valuable, which is why law enforcement officials love them. Prosecutors have reportedly lived it up in seized homes and used seized money to pay off student loans. Police departments often spend seized funds on expensive toys.