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Массовые конфискации счетов американцев по надуманным предлогам
Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required

[Текст из первоисточника в NYT]

Law Lets I.R.S. Seize Accounts on Suspicion, No Crime Required


Carole Hinders at her modest, cash-only Mexican restaurant in Arnolds Park, Iowa. Last year tax agents seized her funds.

ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa - For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away - until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.
The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes - in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.
"How can this happen?" Ms. Hinders said in a recent interview. "Who takes your money before they prove that you've done anything wrong with it?"
The federal government does.

Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash, the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.

The I.R.S. seized almost $33,000 from Ms. Hinders.

"They're going after people who are really not criminals," said David Smith, a former federal prosecutor who is now a forfeiture expert and lawyer in Virginia. "They're middle-class citizens who have never had any trouble with the law."

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by "exceptional circumstances."

Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, "This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.'s mission and key priorities." He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

The I.R.S. is one of several federal agencies that pursue such cases and then refer them to the Justice Department. The Justice Department does not track the total number of cases pursued, the amount of money seized or how many of the cases were related to other crimes, said Peter Carr, a spokesman.

But the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based public interest law firm that is seeking to reform civil forfeiture practices, analyzed structuring data from the I.R.S., which made 639 seizures in 2012, up from 114 in 2005. Only one in five was prosecuted as a criminal structuring case.

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children's college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000. Last year, banks filed more than 700,000 suspicious activity reports. Owners who are caught up in structuring cases often cannot afford to fight. The median amount seized by the I.R.S. was $34,000, according to the Institute for Justice analysis, while legal costs can easily mount to $20,000 or more.

There is nothing illegal about depositing less than $10,000cash 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 one 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." The government seized $447,000 from the business, a cash-intensive candy and cigarette distributor that has been run by one family for 27 years.

There are often legitimate business reasons for keeping deposits below $10,000, said Larry Salzman, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who is representing Ms. Hinders and the Long Island family pro bono. For example, he said, a grocery store owner in Fraser, Mich., had an insurance policy that covered only up to $10,000 cash. When he neared the limit, he would make a deposit.

Ms. Hinders said that she did not know about the reporting requirement and that for decades, she thought she had been doing everyone a favor.

Jeff Hirsch, an owner of Bi-County Distributors on Long Island. The government seized $447,000 from the business, a candy and cigarette distributor run by one family for 27 years.

"My mom had told me if you keep your deposits under $10,000, the bank avoids paperwork," she said. "I didn't actually think it had anything to do with the I.R.S."

In May 2012, the bank branch Ms. Hinders used was acquired by Northwest Banker. JoLynn Van Steenwyk, the fraud and security manager for Northwest, said she could not discuss individual clients, but explained that the bank did not have access to past account histories after it acquired Ms. Hinders's branch.

Banks are not permitted to advise customers that their deposit habits may be illegal or educate them about structuring unless they ask, in which case they are given a federal pamphlet, Ms. Van Steenwyk said. "We're not allowed to tell them anything," she said.

Still lawyers say it is not unusual for depositors to be advised by financial professionals, or even bank tellers, to keep their deposits below the reporting threshold. In the Long Island case, the company, Bi-County Distributors, had three bank accounts closed because of the paperwork burden of its frequent cash deposits, said Jeff Hirsch, the eldest of three brothers who own the company. Their accountant then recommended staying below the limit, so for more than a decade the company had been using its excess cash to pay vendors.

More than two years ago, the government seized $447,000, and the brothers have been unable to retrieve it. Mr. Salzman, who has taken over legal representation of the brothers, has argued that prosecutors violated a strict timeline laid out in the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act, passed in 2000 to curb abuses. The office of the federal attorney for the Eastern District of New York said the law's timeline did not apply in this case. Still, prosecutors asked the Hirsches' first lawyer, Joseph Potashnik, to waive the CARFA timeline. The waiver he signed expired almost two years ago.

The federal attorney's office said that parties often voluntarily negotiated to avoid going to court, and that Mr. Potashnik had been engaged in talks until just a few months ago. But Mr. Potashnik said he had spent that time trying, to no avail, to show that the brothers were innocent. They even paid a forensic accounting firm $25,000 to check the books.

"I don't think they're really interested in anything," Mr. Potashnik said of the prosecutors. "They just want the money."

Bi-County has survived only because longtime vendors have extended credit - one is owed almost $300,000, Mr. Hirsch said. Twice, the government has made settlement offers that would require the brothers to give up an "excessive" portion of the money, according to a new court filing.

"We're just hanging on as a family here," Mr. Hirsch said. "We weren't going to take a settlement, because I was not guilty."

Army Sgt. Jeff Cortazzo of Arlington, Va., began saving for his daughters' college costs during the financial crisis, when many banks were failing. He stored cash first in his basement and then in a safe-deposit box. All of the money came from paychecks, he said, but he worried that when he deposited it in a bank, he would be forced to pay taxes on the money again. So he asked the bank teller what to do.

"She said: 'Oh, that's easy. You just have to deposit less than $10,000.'"

The government seized $66,000; settling cost Sergeant Cortazzo $21,000. As a result, the eldest of his three daughters had to delay college by a year.

"Why didn't the teller tell me that was illegal?" he said. "I would have just plopped the whole thing in the account and been done with it."

У американцев конфискуют деньги на счетах по надуманным поводам

Власти США регулярно конфискуют банковские вклады вполне законопослушных граждан. По свидетельству газеты "Нью-Йорк таймс", обратившей внимание на эту практику, деньги изымаются без решения суда и даже вообще без возбуждения уголовных дел - на основании одних только подозрений. А вернуть их, согласно публикации, настолько сложно и дорого, что у многих жертв произвола просто "опускаются руки".

Основанием для действий властей служит федеральный закон о банковской тайне. Он, в частности, обязует банковские и другие финансовые учреждения страны отчитываться о вкладах и сделках с наличностью на сумму свыше 10 тысяч долларов. Некоторые банки предупреждают об этом клиентов и сами рекомендуют им не превышать указанный предел.

Владелица небольшого ресторанчика в штате Айова Кэрол Хайндерс, по ее словам, получила тот же самый совет от собственной матери. "Мама мне говорила, что если вносить менее, чем по 10 тысяч долларов, то у банков меньше бумажной работы, - сказала 67-летняя женщина. - Мне и в голову не приходило, что это имеет какое-то отношение к IRS - американскому налоговому ведомству.

В прошлом году, однако, двое налоговиков явились к Хайндерс и объявили ей о том, что ее счет, на котором в тот момент находились около 33 тысячи долларов, конфискован. Основанием, как вскоре выяснилось, послужило... соблюдение ею материнского завета, которому она следовала без малого 40 лет. В глазах властей ее действия подозрительно напоминали практику так называемого "структурирования". т.е. сознательной разбивки своих банковских вкладов на суммы, не превышающие 10 тысяч долларов, чтобы те не попадали в отчетность.

По смыслу данное положение закона направлено на борьбу с наркотрафиком и иной оргпреступностью. Однако, формально под него подпадают и многие другие регулярные вклады наличными. К тому же, как поясняет "Нью-Йорк таймс", часть конфискованных средств достается самим правоохранительным органам.

Вот те и стараются: согласно публикации, в настоящее время "более 100 межведомственных рабочих групп прочесывают банковскую отчетность в поисках счетов для конфискации".

[далее]Между тем под "санкции" наряду с Хайндерс, которой для спасения своего ресторанчика пришлось перезаложить дом и вообще по уши залезть в долги, попадают и другие ни в чем не повинные люди. В их числе газета упоминает владельцев молочной фермы из Мэриленда; армейского сержанта из Вирджинии, копившего деньги на учебу детей; хозяев мелкооптовой фирмы, торгующей сигаретами и кондитерскими изделиями на Лонг-Айленде /штат Нью-Йорк/.

У последних власти более двух лет назад конфисковали 447 тысяч долларов. Семейный бизнес, созданный 27 лет назад, по сути зависит теперь от запаса терпения партнеров, которые пока продолжают поставлять товар в кредит. Владельцы - трое братьев Хиршей - заказывали даже специальную судебно-бухгалтерскую экспертизу для доказательства своей невиновности. Она обошлась им в 25 тысяч долларов, но желаемого результата не принесла. "Мне кажется, ничто другое их на самом деле не интересует, - сказал о властях адвокат братьев Джозеф Поташник. - Просто не хотят возвращать деньги".

Армейский сержант Джефф Кортаззо деньги свои, можно сказать, отбил с боем, но при этом почти треть потерял. У него было конфисковано 66 тысяч долларов, внесудебное урегулирование обошлось ему в 21 тысячу. Старшей из трех его дочерей пришлось в результате на год отложить поступление в колледж.

По свидетельству того же "Института за справедливость", сумма издержек в данном случае - достаточно стандартная. Но срединный (медианный?) размер счета, конфискуемого IRS, - 34 тысячи долларов (т.е. половина счетов больше, а половина меньше). Получается, что нанимать адвокатов несправедливо обвиненным бывает порой чуть ли не себе дороже. Даже если у них имеются вполне понятные и убедительные объяснения причин своего поведения - как у того хозяина бакалейной лавки из Мичигана, который застраховался от ограблений на сумму до 10 тысяч долларов и всегда носил в банк деньги только в этих пределах.

Любопытно, что вмешательство "Нью-Йорк таймс", считающейся флагманом американской журналистики, произвело впечатление на налоговиков. Начальник службы уголовных расследований IRS Ричард Уэбер прислал журналистам письменное заявление, в котором обещал прекратить практику повальной конфискации счетов, а вместо этого сосредоточить "ограниченные ресурсы" своего подразделения на случаях, когда есть реальные основания подозревать нелегальное происхождение денег либо имеются другие "чрезвычайные обстоятельства".

Будет ли выполнено это обещание, - покажет время. Формальных оснований для этого нет, профильный закон никто не отменял и не переделывал. А по нему сознательное ограничение размера банковских вкладов во избежание отчетности суммой менее 10 тысяч долларов остается правонарушением, даже если сами деньги нажиты владельцем вполне легально. И сам же Уэбер напомнил, что обещанные новые правила в любом случае обратной силы иметь не будут.

Выглядит так, что достаточно опасно заводить в бизнес в США, если такие отъемы денег часто имеют место. И соответственно, США может мало подходить для валения туда бизнесменов. А есть ли такой беспредел в странах западной европы?

PS: Флагманское свободное СМИ США под названием "New York Times" отключил каменты к той статье. Ведь это же свободная страна, хочу - отключаю каменты, хочу - включаю. Не нравится - создавай свой аналог New York Times.

да, это также хорошо согласуется с практикой, описанной мною ранее:

Шерифы с большой дороги