A Frederick County dairy farmer whose bank account was seized by the federal government -- capturing national attention from conservatives and groups concerned about asset forfeiture -- will get his money back, the Department of Justice said in a letter made public on Wednesday.
Randy and Karen Sowers, who own the South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, had their bank account seized by the government after repeatedly making deposits of just under $10,000, a practice that is prohibited under a law intended to target money laundering.
The couple long denied wrongdoing and ultimately settled their case with the Internal Revenue Service in 2012. But the Treasury Department did not return all of the money that had been seized.
In a letter to the family's attorneys dated June 27, the Justice Department Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section wrote that "due to the unique facts and circumstances of the case" and because the Sowers "have taken steps to prevent further criminal activity" and "cooperated with law enforcement" the government would return $29,500 it had seized.
Additional money had been returned under the earlier settlement.
"This is exactly what we wanted," Randy Sowers said in a statement released by his attorneys at the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian and civil liberties law group. "I hope they give other people's money back. And beyond that I just hope they quit taking people's money."
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The Institute for Justice pressed that argument on Wednesday, suggesting the decision "paved the way" for money to be returned in other cases.
"If the IRS and Justice Department are willing to do the right thing for Randy, there is no reason why they should not do the same for hundreds of other property owners in exactly the same situation," said Robert Everett Johnson, the attorney who represented the Sowers family in his petition. "Today's decision opens a way for other victims of the structuring laws to get back what's rightfully theirs."
Still, the Justice Department letter describes the decision as limited to this particular case, and it did not absolve the farmers from wrongdoing.
"Randy Sowers said that he deliberately kept his deposits under $10,000 so he would 'not throw up red flags,'" the letter reads. "These admissions, combined with other direct and circumstantial evidence in the underlying case, are evidence that Mr. Sowers knowingly violated the anti-structuring statute because he intentionally evaded a financial institution's reporting requirements."
Justice Department officials were not immediately available for comment.
Sowers had received support from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, and he had testified about his case last year at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight.
"It's never too late to do the right thing. I'm glad the IRS stepped up and finally gave Randy Sowers his money back," Rep. Peter J. Roskam, an Illinois Republican and the chairman of the oversight subcommittee said in a statement. "His case was an affront to justice and the government can never truly compensate him for the ordeal it put him through."