Can the federal government take all of your money for no reason and then refuse to give all of it back when they realize they made a mistake? If a new case out of North Carolina is any indication, the answer would be “apparently so.”
Tom Bednar was sitting in the bedroom of his Raleigh, North Carolina, home last year when his wife, Marla, entered the rooms in tears. She had just reviewed the bank account for their 30-year-old business and discovered that all of their money had vanished.
The owners of Marla Enterprises were even more shocked to learn that Capital Bank was demanding almost $18,000 to cover outstanding checks the Bednars had written, The Daily Signal reported.
Marla Bednar transferred money from their personal account into their business one in an effort to fix the overdraft issue and maintain the good-standing their business had enjoyed for decades. After the bank was satisfied, Marla began attempting to find out what had happened to all of the business funds.
When she discovered the truth, she was shocked.
The Secret Service had taken $115,018 from the Marla Enterprise account without any warning, citing civil forfeiture statutes. The Bednars started Marla Enterprises – which buys and sells a variety of precious metals, including gold, antiques and coins — when they lived in Albany, New York. The business operates mainly on a cash basis.
“We got no warning,” Tom Bednar said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “Nothing.”
It took months of legal wrangling and courtroom appearances before U.S. Attorney Steven West in May made a motion to dismiss the “structuring” case against the Bednars. Such a ruling should have meant that all of their funds would be returned quickly, but sadly that did not happen.
According to a warrant filed by Special Agent Terry Tate of the U.S. Secret Service, the couple was guilty of committing structuring violations because they withdrew just under $10,000 in cash from the Marla Enterprises business account on 28 different occasions between January and May 2014. Tate claimed that several other banks told the couple that withdrawing less than $10,000 of their own money in such a manner is illegal. (Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth report on asset forfeiture here.)
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The Bednars maintain they never were given any warning about the cash withdrawals.
“No one ever warned that it could be suspicious to withdraw under $10,000,” Tom Bednar told The Daily Signal.
The Bank Secrecy Act states that all banks must report withdraws and deposits of more than $10,000 to the Treasury Department. When customers choose to deposit or withdraw money under that amount, it can be viewed as attempting to skirt the reporting requirements and lead to the individual or business being charged with a structuring violation.
Opponents of the civil asset forfeiture law maintain that the act of taking money from Americans not charged with a crime turns the “innocent until proven guilty” motto of the United States justice system on its head.
Tom and Marla Bednar decided to fight the Secret Service until they recouped all of their cash and had their legal bills covered. The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act requires the government to reimburse legal fees when it loses, but so far it is refusing.
“I’ve been brought up in the old school,” Tom Bednar said. “I’m very religious — very Catholic. I know right from wrong. I know that this is as wrong as things can get in this part of the world.”
When the US attorney offered the couple 50 percent of their funds back in March, they steadfastly declined. In April, the Justice Department lawyer offered Marla Enterprises all but $10,000 of their funds back, and a second “no” came.
“My wife and I have run a business our whole lives,” Bednar added. “It’s hard-earned, legitimate money. Why should I give it up and let it be stolen from us, whether it’s $1 or $100?
US Attorney Thomas Walker ultimately admitted that the Marla Enterprises owners had not been charged with any crimes related to the money the Secret Service yanked from their bank account and that investigators did not find any proof that would suggested any illegal activity had occurred.
The Bednars are now in the process of getting all $115,018 of their money back. The couple stated during an interview with Fox News that they are considering a lawsuit against specific federal employees for mishandling the case that nearly cost them their entire business.
“They should reimburse the Bednars for the thousands spent defending against this meritless case that was ultimately dropped,” their attorney, Danielle Sassoon said.
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