A husband and wife in Maryland who sell products at local farmer's markets are now the subject of a complaint filed in federal court seizing their bank accounts and taking all of their money. What is it that they allegedly did? They took the cash they made at the markets and deposited it in their bank account. That's all.
However, since the couple made a series of deposits just under $10,000 each the government says they were "illegally structuring" their cash deposits in violation of the "bank secrecy act" which requires banks to report cash transactions ABOVE $10,000 as a way to track and fight organized crime and terrorism.
Both Randy and Karen Sowers said Thursday that they have done nothing wrong and had never heard of structuring until Treasury Department officials showed up at their farm Feb. 29 to question them about deposits.
On that day, they received a summons to testify before a Baltimore grand jury on April 3, according to documents provided by the couple and viewed by The Frederick News-Post.
About 45 minutes into that Feb. 29 questioning they learned the account, which had about $70,000 in it at the time, had been seized, they said. The couple then received a warrant about the seizure.
"I said, 'Huh?'" Randy Sowers said. "They said, 'Yeah, we seized it.'"
While he feared going public would hurt his case, Sowers said he hoped the attention might create some understanding of the couple's plight.
"The level we deposited was what it was and it was about the same every week," Randy Sowers said.
The money the couple deposited into the account was income from their sales at farmers markets and was to be spent on their farming business, he said. [FrederickNewsPost]
Few people are aware that such a pattern can be deemed illegal structuring.
The couple says they felt compelled to settle with the government.
According to settlement papers filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Randy and Karen Sowers will forfeit $29,500 to the government. U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein accused the couple in mid-April of violating federal currency reporting requirements -- known as structuring -- by depositing money in increments of less than $10,000 so they would not have to fill out forms required under the Bank Secrecy Act.
According to Rosenstein's complaint, filed April 19, the couple deposited more than $295,000 into a PNC Bank account in about three dozen separate transactions of just under $10,000 each from May 6, 2011, though Feb. 27, 2012. During that time, the couple's cash receipts from farmers markets, including two in Baltimore, totaled more than $320,000.
U.S. District Judge William Quarles signed a final order of forfeiture Wednesday.
Randy Sowers, reached by phone Wednesday, said the officials who showed up at his farm in February told him at the time that the couple did not appear to have knowingly done anything wrong. Sowers felt strong-armed into settling with the government and the couple had not gotten the remaining $33,436 yet, he said.
"I didn't do anything wrong, but we had to settle because we had no other choice," Sowers said.
"They made a mistake with me because I do not back down from things that are not right."
"The law ... has now been expanded and it's ensnaring small business and farmers," [David] Watt, [the Sowerses' lawyer] said, citing a similar case last fall involving an Eastern Shore farmer.
Sowers felt pressured "because they seized his assets," Watt said.
"They seized his cash," Watt said. "Second, you're up against the federal government. They have unlimited time and unlimited cash."
What do you think about this?