...Sowers’ saga began in February 2012, when IRS agents went to the dairy farm he runs with his wife, Karen, and told Sowers that the tax agency had seized their farm’s bank account.
The agency emptied the account, taking all $63,000.
According to the IRS, the Sowerses were making consistent cash deposits of just under $10,000. Agents said the Maryland couple had been “structuring” cash transactions to evade bank reporting requirements.
But Sowers and his wife frequently sold their eggs and milk at weekend farmers markets, and because many of their customers paid in cash, they often deposited cash into their bank account.
A bank teller previously told Karen Sowers that any deposits or withdrawals of more than $10,000 meant the bank had to fill out extra paperwork, so the couple decided to keep their deposits under that amount.
Under federal law, intentionally structuring cash transactions to avoid reporting requirements is illegal. And under civil asset forfeiture laws—a subset of which govern cash transactions and were designed to prevent money laundering and drug trafficking—the government was able to seize the couple’s money.
Civil asset forfeiture is a tool that gives law enforcement the power to take cash, cars, and other property that investigators suspect is tied to a crime.
Sowers and his lawyers attempted to negotiate with the government, hoping to have most of the couple’s money returned. But those negotiations soured after the Frederick County farmer spoke with a reporter from Baltimore City Paper about his experience.
The day City Paper published its article featuring Sowers, Stefan Cassella, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case, emailed the family’s lawyer saying the two parties had a “problem” because Sowers had spoken to the press.
As a result, Cassella said, prosecutors told the Sowerses they would have to forfeit $29,500 to the government—nearly half of what initially was seized.