Having already told the tale of civil asset forfeiture from back in the bad old days, when it was only going to be used against drug kingpins to “take the profit out of crime,” and even if people didn’t adore it (they did), they didn’t oppose it, there’s a certain amusement to the retelling of Randy Sowers’ travails.
Strapped with pistols and carrying government IDs, two Treasury agents walked onto a Maryland farm on a cold winter morning in 2012, and asked for the owner – Randy Sowers. It was a blur of badges and questions, but Sowers’ four-year legal nightmare was only just beginning. “My story could belong to any farmer or business owner,” Sowers says. “People have almost no idea what the feds will do when they want to hurt you. What kind of power-hungry bureaucrats do we have when guilt or innocence plays no role in the system?”
No, there is nothing funny about what happened to Sowers. What is funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, is his belief that “people have almost no idea what the feds will do when they want to hurt you.” On the contrary, “people” know exactly what they’ll do. Maybe Sowers didn’t. Maybe the people Sowers knows didn’t. Maybe the nice folks at AgWeb didn’t. But “people” did.
Sowers was caught in the hooks of a law intended to capture crime lords and money launderers, and tagged with a bank deposit breach—a paperwork infraction with a sledgehammer penalty.
That’s how laws are sold to the public, that they may be outrageously harsh and unfair, but they won’t be used on good people like you, just bad people like the people who are called bad named like “crime lords” and, well, money launderers isn’t really all that bad, but since Sowers wasn’t one, it didn’t matter.
Although the Frederick County producer wasn’t suspected of drug dealing, tax evasion, or criminal enterprise, Internal Revenue Service investigators wedged Sowers into a legal vise with almost no chance of escape. Sowers’ wife had made a series of bank deposits—all less than $10,000 cash and gleaned from farmers’ markets—and in response, IRS was baying for proverbial blood. “They seized almost $70,000 of our money, had us scared and thinking we were going to prison, and maybe losing all we’d worked for,” Sowers explains. “Roll over and shut up—that’s the game I was supposed to play.”
There’s nothing unusual about this. Sowers’ wife engaged in what the feds would call “smurfing,” breaking up larger amounts of cash deposits into smaller amount to fall under the $10,000 requirement for the completion of an Unusual Currency Transaction form, which the bank would immediately send off to the feds to cover their butt and curry favor.
Sowers wasn’t guilty of anything? It was money from farmers’ markets? Okay. I totally believe, but here’s the thing: regardless of whether it came from selling heirloom tomatoes to women named Karen because they would never pay extra to purchase tomatoes called “tasty but ugly and deformed,” the feds get to sweep in and glom up the money and make its target fight for its return. It’s crazy, sure, but it’s just as crazy for the guy selling meth as the Randy Sowers.
Except AgWeb, et al., is suddenly shocked when it happens to a good, law-abiding, salt-o’-the-earth farmer like Sowers, but didn’t give a hoot when it happened to some guy the feds called a “money launderer.” After all, Sowers is a farmer, and while it’s fine, if not commendable, for the feds to use this absurdly unfair system when taking down the bad dudes, it’s completely wrong when it’s used against a farmer. How is it possible that “people have almost no idea” about this?