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How The IRS Turned Carole Hinders’ Life Upside Down.

Iowa restaurant owner’s fight against the IRS gains national attention.

A restaurant owner in northwest Iowa has landed in the national news spotlight over her fight with the federal government. Carole Hinders who at the time was 67 years old and a grandmother has operated Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food in Arnolds Park, Iowa for 38 years.

Nowadays it is most notable for a small business to be in operation for 38 years – especially if it is a restaurant which we all know “come and go”. Even more notable for Ms. Hinders was that she was always in full compliance with her tax obligations. But despite her clean tax record, on May 22, 2013 while settling into a crossword puzzle with her grandchildren she was visited at her home by a pair of IRS agents who stated that they had closed her business bank account and seized all her money, which at the time was almost $33,000.

As the IRS agents were leaving her house she pleaded “How am I supposed to pay my bills? How am I supposed to pay my people?” The agents replied – we don’t know.

You may ask how could this have happened? She did not have any outstanding liability to the IRS. The problem though is that Ms. Hinders’ restaurant only accepts cash so Ms. Hinders makes frequent trips to the bank to avoid having large sums of money on the business’ premises.

As part of the federal government’s dragnet surveillance of the civilian population, everyone’s banking activities are monitored for “red flag” activities. Under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, banks are required to report to the IRS transactions on every individual who deposits or withdraws more than $10,000 in cash to or from a personal bank account on a given day. These reports indicate the financial activities that took place and include the individual’s bank account number, name, address and social security number.

People who know of this law and are seeking to avoid this level of reporting by the bank will often go to great lengths to make multiple deposits so that no single deposit will be greater than $10,000. This tactic is called “structuring”. The IRS thinking that Ms. Hinders was making small deposits to evade this reporting requirement used its civil forfeiture power to seize Ms. Hinders’ bank account and close down her business.

That’s right – federal law enforcement agencies are invested with the power of civil forfeiture whereby the federal agency can take cash, cars and other property without charging the property owner with a crime. The property owner need not receive any advance warning or notice before the assets are seized by the federal government. The government need not prove that a person is guilty of a crime – only that he or she is suspected of committing a crime. This law was designed to catch terrorists, money launderers, drug lords and serious criminals – but it can also be used by the government against law-abiding businesses.

Ms. Hinders said she received no warning from either her bank or the government before her money was taken. The reason that the federal government does not have to read you your rights, or advise you that you can have a lawyer, or do any of the things that the constitution is supposed to provide, is that they don’t charge the person with the crime – instead they charge your money with the crime.

Since then, she’s had to borrow money and use credit cards to pay bills and keep her restaurant in business. But Ms. Hinder was not stopping there – she knew she didn’t do anything wrong and did not owe anything to the IRS. But yet the IRS took her money so Ms. Hinders’ decided she was going to fight the IRS.

The Battle Against IRS Begins

Remember Ms. Hinders was never accused of any crime. The Mexican restaurant she owned, Mrs. Lady’s, did not accept credit cards and she regularly deposited earnings in a bank branch a block away. She followed this procedure for almost four decades. And all this activity occurred in rural Northwestern Iowa – far from any foreign border and in a region not known for drug dealing and money laundering.

Ms. Hinders and similar business owners were making deposits under $10,000 because that is the kind of money their business is bringing in – not because of a desire to avoid government reporting. Ms. Hinders stated “How can I be committing a crime by depositing money that I worked for, and deposited in my own bank account? In 30 years of banking with the same bank, no one ever mentioned that I was making my deposits wrong”.

Ms. Hinders wasn’t using the money for illegal purposes. Her business doesn’t accept credit cards and the law fails to provide provisions for small businesses with limited cash flow. Ms. Hinders frequently deposited money in order to keep it safe in the bank. 

But yet the government was treating Ms. Hinders like a criminal, just for running an honest cash business.

She hired an attorney to sue the IRS and regain her property. In civil forfeiture cases, the government must file lawsuits “against” property or cash in order to keep it. This one was called United States of America v. $32,820.56 in United States Currency (Case No. 2013-CV-4102). This lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. Weeks later Ms. Hinders was deposed. After her deposition, it became overwhelmingly clear that Ms. Hinders was an innocent and hardworking restaurateur. The Assistant United States Attorney on the case had then informed the IRS that they should not go forward with the case. The IRS agreed and the case was dismissed but without prejudice – meaning that the government can file another action in the future to get Hinders’ money if the court grants its motion.

Are There Any Safeguards In Place For The IRS To Follow So Things Like This Do Not Happen?

Critics say the IRS rarely investigates such cases to see if the business owner has legitimate reasons for making small deposits, such as an insurance policy that covers only a limited amount of cash.

Seizing assets without criminal charges is legal under a controversial body of law that allows law enforcement agents to seize cars, cash and other valuables they believe are tied to criminal activity. The burden of proof falls on owners seeking the return of their property. In fact what happened to Ms. Hinders has prompted the two high-ranking members on the House Ways and Means committee to file bipartisan legislation to curb abuses of the practice, known as civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture even become an issue in the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who as United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York presided over a case involving more than $440,000 seized from a family-run cash-intensive candy and cigarette distributor that has been operating in Long Island, New York for 27 years.

There is nothing illegal about depositing less than $10,000 cash unless it is done specifically to evade the reporting requirement. But often a mere bank statement is enough for investigators to obtain a seizure warrant. In the Long Island case, the police submitted almost a year’s worth of daily deposits by a business, ranging from $5,550 to $9,910. The officer wrote in his warrant affidavit that based on his training and experience, the pattern “is consistent with structuring”.

Given the dismissal of the case brought on by Ms. Hinders, the IRS has since stated that it would consider more carefully seizures in cases where there is no suspicion that the money involved came from an illegal source. But of course officials did not go so far to drop cases that were already underway or to even stop using this form of power. The IRS made 639 of these seizures in 2012, compared to 114 in 2005. And only one in five was prosecuted as a criminal case. So you are probably thinking was the money from the other 80% of cases returned to its rightful owners?

Well in Ms. Hinders’ case she still faces the possibility of the IRS reopening her case. The IRS claimed that their case was “justified” and requested the right to be able to refile the case at another point in time. You would think that the IRS would have instead simply return the money with interest and apologize to Ms. Hinders for the nightmare they put her through. Instead the IRS is shamefully attempting to mask their retreat by insisting on the right to refile the case in the future.

Don’t Take The Chance And Lose Everything You Have Worked For.

Protect yourself. If you are in danger of wage garnishments or bank levies or having a tax lien placed against your property, stand up to the IRS and your State Tax Agency by getting representation. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.

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  1. […] is not the only person whose money got her into criminal trouble. A few weeks ago, I told you about Carole Hinders, another resident of Iowa and a 67 year old grandmother who operated Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food […]

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