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Trump Signs New Law To Protect Innocent Small Business Owners From IRS Seizures

Trump Signs New Law To Protect Innocent Small Business Owners From IRS Seizures
Photo Credit: IMG_1200 by MauronB is licensed under Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Congress has reined in civil forfeiture, which lets the federal government permanently confiscate property without ever filing criminal charges.  Following unanimous approval by Congress, President Donald Trump last week signed the Taxpayer First Act (H.R. 3151), an overhaul of the Internal Revenue Service that includes the Clyde-Hirsch-Sowers RESPECT Act.  Named after Institute for Justice clients Jeff Hirsch and Randy Sowers, two small-business owners who had their bank accounts raided by the IRS, the RESPECT Act curbs the IRS’s power to seize cash for “structuring” offenses.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, banks must report any cash transactions greater than $10,000.  But if someone frequently deposits or withdraws their cash in amounts under $10,000, the IRS could seize it for “structuring.”  Even though their money was earned legitimately and despite the fact that they were never charged with a crime, in 2012, the IRS seized nearly $63,000 from Randy and more than $446,000 from Jeff.  It took years of litigation and high-profile coverage before they won their money back.

Their cases weren’t isolated incidents. Between 2005 and 2012, the IRS used civil forfeiture to seize nearly $200 million in over 2,100 cases. Roughly half of all seizures involved amounts under $34,000—hardly the proceeds of the sprawling criminal enterprises structuring laws were supposed to target.

But under the RESPECT Act, the IRS can now only seize property for structuring if it’s “derived from an illegal source” or if the money were structured to conceal criminal activity. 

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