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Are federal prosecutors abusing their enforcement powers in the civil and criminal context? The news is increasingly filled with examples of the government taking advantage of vague statutory language and applying powerful prosecutorial tools to questionable ends. On May 25, 2016, the House Subcommittee on Oversight of the Ways & Means Committee held a hearing criticizing the Department of Justice and the IRS practice of seizing the bank accounts of small businesses for allegedly “structuring” cash deposits in violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (originally passed to combat money laundering and terrorism finance) where there was no intent to violate the law and no underlying criminal activity. One witness included a Maryland farmer whose $60,000 bank account from farmers’ market proceeds was seized, and who was further punished for speaking to the press about his case. Pending before the Eleventh Circuit is United States v. Clay, a case in which some 200 FBI agents raided a Florida health care company over an accounting dispute stemming from the interpretation of an allegedly vague Florida Medicaid regulatory provision. That raid resulted in the prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of the company’s top executives. Our experts discussed these cases, as well as other recent controversies involving prosecutorial discretion, civil asset forfeiture, and the criminal law.
- Robert Everett Johnson, Attorney, Institute for Justice
- Paul D. Kamenar, Washington, D.C. Attorney and Senior Fellow, Administrative Conference of the United States