The article below is about what happened to a Maryland dairy farmer after the I.R.S. seized their operating capital, legally earned money, under a ostensible crime called “structuring” – but it could happen to you. If you buy or sell horses for cash, or regularly make bank deposits just under $10,000 each, read on to find out how the Maryland Farm Bureau is working hard to keep the IRS from seizing your lawfully earned income.
Funds Returned to Local Farmers
By Valerie Connelly, executive director of the Maryland Farm Bureau
Another Maryland Farm Bureau policy was achieved this summer with the announcement that the IRS will finally return money seized from local farmers in a “structuring” nightmare that began in 2012.
Most farms and other agricultural companies put all of their efforts into running successful businesses, meaning they may not have time to learn all the ins and outs when it comes to handling finances and taxes. This is why many of them chose to hire an outside expert when it comes to handling complicated matters like tax-resolution and structuring. These experts can make sure that a business doesn’t accidentally make financial mistakes which could get them into trouble with government bodies like the IRS.
The seizure of bank accounts that year was so offensive to Maryland Farm Bureau members that our voting delegates wrote policy calling on the federal government to stop using its structuring law – that was intended to stop terrorists – as a means of stealing thousands of dollars from hard-working farmers. MFB delegates successfully passed our policy at the AFBF national convention. Then we worked with Rep. Andy Harris of the 1st Congressional District to introduce legislation.
Four years later, following numerous hearings by the House Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee and work by groups inside and outside of Farm Bureau, the IRS agreed to return all of the money taken from Frederick farmer Randy Sowers. Click here to read the Baltimore Sun article.
It all started for the MD Farm Bureau back in 2012, when federal Treasury Department investigators showed up at the home a Farm Bureau member, near Preston, Maryland. The investigators asked a series of questions, allowed the family to provide specific details about activity at their fresh produce roadside stands and then informed them that the government had already seized their entire bank account because of suspicious deposits.
The government took their entire $90,000 of operating cash because of repeated deposits, of legally earned money, in amounts just under $10,000.
A few months later, the same situation occurred in Frederick County. This time the target was Farm Bureau member Randy Sowers, owner of South Mountain Creamery. The government seized almost $70,000, but claimed Sowers’ repeated deposits of under $10,000 amounted to more than $250,000 the previous year. This could have probably been avoided if the farmers registered themselves as business owners and obtained a merchant account for credit/debit card transactions via some merchant service provider like Payment Savvy (https://mypaymentsavvy.com), but unfortunately, most such transactions happen in cash and so need to be deposited.
Many farmers and most other business people knew that making deposits or withdrawals of over $10,000 triggered Currency Transaction Reports (CTR) to the federal IRS. What most of them did not know was that purposely depositing less than $10,000 to avoid triggering the CTR is a crime called “structuring.” These deposits trigger a form called the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which the bank must file without informing the customer. [emphasis from The Equiery]
Examples of structuring listed on the pamphlet published by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) at the U.S. Department of Treasury include:
- John has $15,000 in cash he obtained from selling his truck. John knows that if he deposits $15,000 in cash, his financial institution will be required to file a CTR. John instead deposits $7,500 in cash in the morning with one financial institution employee and comes back to the financial institution later in the day to another employee to deposit the remaining $7,500, hoping to evade the CTR reporting requirement.
- Jane needs $18,000 in cash to pay for supplies for her wood-carving business. Jane cashes a $9,000 personal check at a financial institution on a Monday, then cashes another $9,000 personal check at the financial institution the next day. Jane cashed the checks separately and structured the transaction in an attempt to evade the CTR reporting requirement.
- A married couple, John and Jane, sell a vehicle for $15,000 in cash. To evade the CTR reporting requirement, John and Jane structure their transactions using different accounts. John deposits $8,000 of that money into his and Jane’s joint account in the morning. Later that day, Jane deposits $1,500 into the joint account, and then $5,500 into her sister’s account, which is later transferred to John and Jane’s joint account.
- Bob wants to place $24,000 cash he earned from his illegal activities into the financial system by using a wire transfer. Bob knows the financial institution will file the CTR if he purchases a wire with over $10,000 currency in one day. To evade the CTR reporting requirement, Bob wires the $24,000 by purchasing wires with currency in $6,000 increments over a short period of time, occasionally skipping days in an attempt to prevent the financial institution from filing the CTR.
The FinCEN pamphlet also explains that the federal law requiring the CTR for transactions over $10,000 is intended to protect the financial industry from threats posed by money laundering and other crimes. There is no general prohibition against handling large amounts of currency and the filing of a CTR is required regardless of the reasons for the currency transaction.
The pamphlet says that federal law makes it a crime to break up transactions into smaller amounts for the purpose of evading the CTR. Structuring transactions to prevent the CTR can result in imprisonment for not more than five years and/or a fine of up to $250,000. If structuring involves more than $100,000 in a twelve month period or is performed while violating another law of the United States, the penalty is doubled. The FinCEN pamphlet and other helpful information can be found at: http://www.fincen.gov.
The part of this law that made the newly initiated the most enraged was that a person does not have to commit another crime – like money laundering or tax evasion – to be prosecuted and convicted of structuring.
Most reasonable people understand that the government monitors currency transactions in order to catch terrorists, drug dealers and money launderers. Most agree that the government should step in and intercept funds being deposited by terrorists like the ones who masterminded the September 11th attacks on our nation. We agree to a certain degree of privacy invasion to protect the greater good.
But when law abiding citizens (like the farmers involved in the Maryland examples) find themselves the target of a federal prosecutor intent on improving his record of civil money forfeiture, something has gone terribly wrong. This was not justice. Who was the victim here?
This was a “gotcha” game, in which neither knowledge of the law nor criminal intent was required to be convicted. Obviously, the House Oversight Subcommittee agreed with us. And now it appears the Treasury Department concurs. A process is now in place to refund the money taken from law-abiding citizens.
This is one more victory for the unified voices of farmers under the banner of Farm Bureau. We are Farm Bureau Proud!