ON-Lion Letter

Lyndon McLellan has spent more than a decade running L&M Convenience Mart, a gas station, restaurant, and convenience store in rural Fairmont, N.C.  Then, almost one year ago, agents from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) came to the store and announced that they had seized his entire bank account, totaling more than $107,000.

Banks are required to file forms with the authorities to report deposits of more than $10,000 in cash.  The law also makes it illegal to "structure" deposits -- depositing cash in amounts under $10,000 to avoid triggering the reporting requirement.  Aggressive enforcement of these laws can ensnare small-business owners who deal in cash.

McLellan has been so ensnared.  He did nothing wrong, and the IRS has never alleged that he committed a crime -- much less charged him with one. 

Despite this, last December, the IRS and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil-forfeiture complaint in federal court that, if successful, would allow them to keep McClellan's money permanently.  DOJ's actions came months after the IRS announced a formal policy change prohibiting the agency from using civil forfeiture to take money from law-abiding citizens like McClellan.

In late April, the Institute for Justice (IJ) in Arlington, Va., filed court documents contesting the IRS's forfeiture of McClellan's money.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports IJ.

"This case demonstrates that the federal government's recent reforms are riddled with loopholes and exceptions and fundamentally fail to protect Americans' basic rights," according to IJ attorney Robert Everett Johnson, who represents Lyndon.  "No American should have his property taken by the government without first being convicted of a crime."

McClellan is unwilling to give the government a single penny of his hard-earned money.  "It took me 13 years to save that much money, and it took fewer than 13 seconds for the government to take it away," McClellan said.

"As Congress is considering civil-forfeiture reforms, it is clear that recent policy changes by the IRS and Department of Justice are not enough,” said IJ attorney Wesley Hottot, who also represents McClellan.  "Lyndon is not a criminal; he’s a hardworking small-business owner whose life has been turned upside down by the IRS and a prosecutor who does not seem to care about new policies designed to protect people like Lyndon.  This is exactly why Congress needs to pass new laws to protect property owners."

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