If someone takes $35,000 from your bank account without your permission and for no reason, it’s called stealing. If the Federal government does it, it’s called civil forfeiture.
Tarik Dehko is the epitome of an American success story. The 69-year-old came to the United States from Baghdad, Iraq, in 1970 and by 1978 had opened a small grocery store in Michigan. In the more than three decades since he opened Schott’s Market, the business has grown to employ about 30 people in the small town of Bloomfield Township.
But recently, the man who appears to be a portrait of the American dream achieved is living a nightmare. In January, the Federal government obtained a secret warrant and took every dollar out of his grocery store bank account. Why? Because government agents did not like the way Dehko went about depositing money into his bank account.
Civil forfeiture allows the government to take cash, cars, homes and other property from people without ever convicting or even charging them with a crime. Often, victims of this government theft never see their belongings again.
In Dehko’s case, investigators allege that the business owner was attempting to avoid complying with a Federal law that requires banks to report cash transactions in excess of $10,000 to the Internal Revenue Service because the business owner routinely made deposits just under the threshold.
Dehko said that frequently makes deposits of just less than $10,000 (not that he should have to explain because he didn’t break any law) because his insurance policy covers cash losses only up to $10,000.
Nine months later, the businessman has yet to see a dime of his money returned or to be given any information from the Federal thieves who stole his money.
Late last month, Dehko and his daughter and business partner Sandy teamed up with the Institute for Justice to fight back in Federal court.
“Federal forfeiture law allows the government to take your entire bank account just because it doesn’t like the way you deposit or withdraw your money,” said IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily. “The government should not be allowed to just show up at your doorstep like a playground bully and take away your milk money. But that’s exactly what the government did to Terry and Sandy.”
Larry Salzman, an attorney at the Institute, said a victory in the case could mark the beginning of the end for what amounts to a billion-dollar Federal criminal enterprise.
“Last year alone, the government took in more than $4 billion in forfeiture money,” said Salzman. “Taking money from innocent people like Terry and Sandy is wrong. Thankfully, the Dehkos are prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to vindicate the right to private property for Americans everywhere.”