Larry and David Vocatura could go to federal prison for depositing cash the wrong way – even though the IRS seized the money and already gave it back.
The owners of a Connecticut bakery/sandwich shop won a major victory on May 24, when the IRS returned all of the $68,382.22 it seized from their bank account in 2013, but shortly after getting their money, the brothers learned that Peter S. Jongbloed, an assistant US attorney, was continuing with a criminal probe of their sandwich shop.
The Institute for Justice had filed a federal civil right lawsuit on the brothers’ behalf.
The IRS alleges the Vocaturas were involved in drugs or prostitution, although it never found any evidence.
Jongbloed already offered the brothers a “plea deal” with a three- to four-year prison sentence if they turned over the $68,382.22 and an additional $160,000.
The business, Vocatura’s Bakery, has been in their family since 1919 when their grandfather started it.
“This is yet another example of prosecutors using strong-arm tactics to threaten forfeiture victims with prosecution and jail time in order to pressure them to surrender their property in a plea deal,” Institute attorney Dan Alban said. “The government threatened the Vocaturas with an investigation if they refused to give up their money. The Vocaturas refused anyway, and now the government is carrying through with that threat.”
They Didn’t Know What Structuring Was
The Vocaturas’ problems began in May 2013, when a squad of armed IRS agents came into his bakery and asked if David Vocatura and his brother were dealing drugs or running prostitutes. The two said they were innocent and simply were running a commercial bakery and a restaurant that serves pizza and Italian sandwiches.
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No criminal charges were filed, but the $68,382.22 was seized from their bank account. The IRS took the action because the Vocaturas had made multiple cash deposits at their bank in amounts of less than $10,000. They are accused of structuring.
“In the three years since the seizure, federal prosecutors never once brought their case before a judge, and instead sought to pressure the bakery’s owners to agree to a ‘voluntary’ forfeiture,” an Institute for Justice press release noted.
The Vocaturas made the small deposits after a bank employee told them they would have to fill out paperwork if they deposited amounts of $10,000 or more. Not wanting to trouble the bank employees with paperwork, they began making smaller deposits.
“I didn’t know what structuring was that day, until the agent explained to me what it was,” David Vocatura told The Huffington Post. “We’re good, hardworking people and we run a clean, legitimate business.”
Vocatura said his business gave the IRS “all kinds of records.”
“We’ve cooperated with them since day one, personal and business information, anything they’ve wanted,” he said. “They checked us out.”
The Institute believes the IRS and Jongbloed’s pursuit violates an October 2014 change in IRS policy that barred the use of forfeiture in such cases.
A proposed law, the Due Process Act of 2016 (HR 5283), would make it harder for the federal government to seize property and easier for citizens to fight forfeiture.
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