Government investigators fishing for criminals went after a veteran’s business, on a hunch, and seized more than $59,000 during a raid. They found no wrongdoing, but the Internal Revenue Service is reportedly refusing to give that money back, even though the man’s business was wiped out as a result.
South Korean immigrant Oh Suk Kwon, 73, came to the U.S. back in the 1970s and served for four years in the U.S. Army as a fleet mechanic. As he explained to The Washington Post. “When I came to the United States, I had to do something for the country.” Kwon later became a U.S. citizen.
After an honorable discharge and decades spent working at an electrical plant as an auto mechanic, the veteran had finally saved enough money to purchase his own gas station in Maryland in 2007. “My whole life was work, work, work,” he told reporters.
His problems with the IRS began in 2011 when investigators showed up at Kwon’s business and accused him of making cash deposits in increments of less than $10,000 – a practice known as “structuring.” Structuring is typically a method used by terror groups to avoid detection, because the 1970 Banking Secrecy Act requires banks to report all transactions larger than $10,000.
During its raid, IRS investigators seized all the gas station’s cash – more than $59,000 – despite the fact that they did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing. As a result of the seizure, Kwon was forced to declare bankruptcy, and the money was never returned.
Since then, his wife passed away, and the IRS changed its policy regarding such seizures. However, the agency is refusing to return Kwon’s money.
“Of all the cases I have worked on, this one stands out for me,” Kwon’s attorney Edward Griffin told The Washington Post. “I firmly believe that the government did wrong in choosing to prosecute Mr. Kwon and seize his assets. There was no good policy purpose for the prosecution. They did it for money, and they destroyed a good and honest man. It is shameful, which is why I am still fighting for him.”
A spokesman for the IRS said that Kwon pleaded guilty to the structuring charge, explaining that he had been following advice from a local bank, which suggested making smaller deposits to avoid paperwork.
The guilty plea ruined his life, said Kwon, who recalled feeling mortified after the investigators spoke with his neighbors. He later moved out of the neighborhood.
“They saw me as Korean, as a veteran,” he told reporters. “They were surprised to see me as a criminal. I will never forget that.”
Kwon’s attorney petitioned the IRS and Department of Justice this summer to return his money, but the request was not granted, citing lack of “additional information.”
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