After nearly three years of financial crisis, Long Island brothers and business owners Jeffrey, Richard and Mitch Hirsch are getting back on solid ground. The civil forfeiture case against their company, Bi-County Distributors, was dropped and $447,000 of wrongfully seized funds will be returned to them. In the 32 months that this case dragged on, criminal charges were never filed against the Hirsch brothers, nor were the brothers able to get a hearing before a judge.
So what happened with the Bi-County case? With daily bank deposits ranging from a few hundred dollars to nearly $10,000, Nassau County officers suggested the company was “structuring,” or trying to evade the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires that deposits of $10,000 or more be reported to the Treasury Department. All it took was a Nassau County detective stating that the daily bank deposits made by Bi-County were “consistent with structuring” for the IRS to seize all the money in the company bank account. There was no evidence that the money came from illegal activity. This civil forfeiture case was handled by Loretta Lynch, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York and President Obama’s pick to be the nation’s next attorney general. Surrounded by the negative publicity this case has generated at a time when civil asset forfeiture laws are facing intense scrutiny, the US Attorney’s Office dropped the case.
Sadly, civil forfeiture cases like this one are not unique. Current civil forfeiture laws allow authorities to seize money, property, cars, and homes suspected of involvement in crime, without ever charging the property owner with a crime. While the Hirsch brothers’ story has a happy ending, many innocent Americans in similar situations do not receive their confiscated property back.
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