Arlington, Va.—In August 2013, the federal government used civil forfeiture to obtain a secret warrant to seize Carole Hinder’s entire bank account—totaling nearly $33,000—even though she did nothing wrong. Now Carole has teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to fight back in federal court.
Carole has owned and operated Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food in Spirit Lake, Iowa for 38 years. The restaurant only accepts cash, which means Carole makes frequent trips to the bank to avoid having large sums of money on the premises. Federal law requires banks to report cash deposits larger than $10,000. Since her deposits were less than $10,000, the government claims she was deliberately making small deposits to evade the reporting requirement. And now they want to keep all of Carol’s money without even charging her with a crime.
Using civil forfeiture, law enforcement agencies can take cash, cars and other property without so much as charging the property owner with a crime. Shockingly, the agencies that seize the money can use the proceeds of forfeiture to pad their own budgets. For several years, the government has used civil forfeiture to treat legitimate small businesses like criminals just because they make frequent cash deposits.
“Civil forfeiture is one of the most serious assaults on property rights in America today,” said IJ Attorney Larry Salzman. “The government should not take property from innocent people.”
Carole received no warning from either her bank or the government before her money was taken. She has not been charged with any crime. The government is not claiming that any of the money that it seized from Mrs. Lady’s is the proceeds of illegal activity—only that civil forfeiture law allows them to seize money merely suspected of being involved in crime.
“I did not do anything wrong, but they took my money,” said Carole. “I was unable to pay my bills for the first time in my life. I had to borrow money, use my credit cards and beg vendors to extend me credit. This nightmare has left me broke, frightened and exhausted.”
“Civil forfeiture is broken,” explained IJ Attorney Wesley Hottot. “That is why this case is important: a victory for Carole will not only return her money but will protect the rights of all Americans.”