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OPINION

Government Burglars

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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The legitimate purpose of government? It is to protect citizens from force and fraud, to defend individuals against violent and criminal attacks on their persons and property, and, beyond that, to leave them at liberty to pursue their own happiness.

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Tyranny, conversely, is what we call governments that engage in force and fraud, committing violent and criminal acts against innocent people — even when those crimes are cloaked in the costume of legality.

In these United States, at this modern moment in time, which is it? Do we live in a legitimately governed country or an abject tyranny? Or is it somewhere in between?

These questions invariably spring to mind while reading the March 30th report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The report looked at IRS enforcement of the Bank Secrecy Act, specifically the act’s prohibition against “structuring.”

Structuring is the term cooked up to describe a specific banking activity on the part of depositors: purposely depositing cash into the bank in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid triggering the cumbersome reporting required under federal law for depositing $10,000 or morein cash. The idea behind that arbitrary $10,000 cash threshold for reporting is to help the Feds catch drug traffickers and money-launderers. At least, theoretically.

A report on the enforcement of bank regulations would seem at first blush to be pretty boring stuff. But the accompanying press release immediately disabuses one of such prejudice: “The Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigation (CI) division enforced the Bank Secrecy Act’s anti-structuring provisions primarily against individuals and businesses whose income was legally obtained, according to a report publicly released today by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The report also concludes that the rights of some individuals and businesses were compromised in these investigations.”

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Did you get that?

The IRS is going after the innocent, more than the guilty, and violating their constitutional rights in the process.

But what does the TIGTA really mean by “primarily” targeting your innocent fellow citizens?

“TIGTA determined that 91 percent of the 278 investigations in its sample where source of funds could be determined were of businesses and individuals whose funds were obtained legally.” Oh, good, it’s just a mere — er, more than 9 out of ten victims of this IRS thumb-screwing enforcement, who did nothing wrong.

Well, to call it thumb-screwing is a bit hyperbolic; that I admit. No onewas tortured, no fingers or toes crushed, for goodness sake. So, exactly what “enforcement” is the inspector general talking about?

Civil asset forfeiture. You know, that fancy, legalistic three-word phrase for stealing. Without investigating the source of the money or even harboring minimal suspicion, and obviously without any charge being leveled, much less a conviction, the IRS swoops in and seizes the money in a business’s bank account.

“IRS procedures dictate that the overall purpose of its civil forfeiture program is to disrupt and dismantle criminal enterprises,” notes the TIGTA. Nonetheless, the report adds, “Most people impacted by the program did not appear to be criminal enterprises engaged in other alleged illegal activity; rather, they were legal businesses such as jewelry stores, restaurant owners, gas station owners, scrap metal dealers, and others.”

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Why is the IRS going after hardworking business owners rather than criminals? Simple. It’s easier to rob unsuspecting innocents than devious crooks.

As the inspector general explained, “One of the reasons why legal source cases were pursued was that the Department of Justice had encouraged task forces to engage in ‘quick hits,’ where property was more quickly seized and more quickly resolved through negotiation, rather than pursuing cases with other criminal activity (such as drug trafficking and money laundering), which are more time-consuming.”

Tyrannical attitude and activity, to be sure, but who can argue with the logic? Fighting crime is more time-consuming than robbing businesspeople.

Bad behavior isn’t exactly new for the IRS, which has long padded its reputation for going overboard with enforcement efforts. Still, this policy of so blatantly seizing, stealing, the profits of hardworking, honest business people isn’t merely over-exuberance in pursuit of legitimate law enforcement, it is unjust, authoritarian behavior in pursuit of cold, hard cash.

That’s not only the conclusion of the TIGTA, but seems evident to the Internal Revenue Service itself. After all, in 2014, following the initial public disclosure of such seizures, the Chief of Criminal Investigation for the IRS announced that the agency would cease and desist from seizing bank accounts without at least some suspicion that the “structuring” was tied to criminal activity. Nonetheless, the most recent TIGTA report found that “the actions taken by the Government were inconsistent with the new policy.”

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Nor is the IRS alone among federal agencies in stealing from citizens without regard to criminal conduct. Weeks ago, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report that the Drug Enforcement Agency had seized a whopping $4 billion since 2007. “But 81 percent of those seizures, totaling $3.2 billion, were conducted administratively,” the Washington Post reported, “meaning no civil or criminal charges were brought against the owners of the cash and no judicial review of the seizures ever occurred.”

The IG report on the DEA concluded, “When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution.”

In the Declaration of Independence, our founders listed many reasons for their revolt against the British Empire of King George III, including that, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” That seems tame compared to the current behavior of federal agencies, such as the IRS, the DEA and the DOJ.

A study on civil asset forfeiture conducted by Armstrong Economics found that, in 2014, governments stole more from American citizens not convicted of any crime, than the total taken from Americans by burglars.

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Meaning that it is getting harder to tell the private thieves from the government thieves.

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