Judge Orders Gov’t To Pay Legal Expenses After Seizing $107,700 From Store Owner Without Filing Charges

It looks like at least one person in our judicial system remembers that they serve the people, not the government.

Ruling in favor of North Carolina convenience store owner Lyndon McLellan, US District Judge James Fox said that the government is to cover the full cost of the legal fees and expenses he accrued defending himself in court. The amount to be paid is estimated to come in at over $20,000.

McLellan’s legal problems arose in May of 2014 when the IRS raided his bank account and seized $107,700 from it. Shortly after taking McLellan’s money however, the government ceased all action against McLellan on account of Justice Department policy changes and returned the money to him.

During the period the IRS was holding his money, McLellan prepared to sue the government only to find himself saddled with a considerable bill after his case was suddenly dropped. Feeling that he shouldn’t have to pay for the government’s mistake, he filed suit.

McLellan’s case is a significant victory for victims of civil and asset forfeiture, as his attorney and Institute for Justice lawyer Robert Johnson said. People like Adam and Jennifer Perry who had thousands of dollars stolen from them by police and never received so much as a sorry now have a chance of being repaid for their troubles someday.

“In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James Fox said McLellan was fully within his right to demand that the government pay for his legal fees and expenses, as is guaranteed under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000. Fox wrote:

[T]he damage inflicted upon an innocent person or business is immense when, although it has done nothing wrong, its money and property are seized. Congress, acknowledging the harsh realities of civil forfeiture practice, sought to lessen the blow to innocent citizens who have had their property stripped by the government. …

This court will not discard lightly the right of a citizen to seek the relief Congress has afforded.

McLellan and Johnson have fought for full compensation for McLellan for more than eight months. Although Johnson contended that the ‘wheels of justice turn slowly,’ he called the decision a ‘vindication.’

‘For Lyndon, I spoke with him, and he’s absolutely thrilled about this decision,’ Johnson said. ‘This is vindication that has been a long time coming. Lyndon did nothing wrong, and it’s gratifying to see a federal judge stick up for that fact and to make things right.’

McLellan has owned and operated L&M Convenience Mart since 2001. According to court documents, the IRS seized his money because agents believed he had committed ‘structuring’ violations. McLellan, however, was never charged with a crime.

Structuring involves making consistent cash deposits or withdrawals of just under $10,000 into or out of a bank account to avoid federal reporting requirements. Law enforcement targeted structuring as a way to stop money laundering and drug trafficking.

However, several instances have arisen involving innocent Americans, such as McLellan, who were unaware they were violating the law in the first place.”

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