A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, that aims to prevent abuse of civil asset forfeiture policies has been signed by President Donald Trump.
The Taxpayer First Act includes Collins’ RESPECT Act, which he reintroduced earlier this year. That bill was inspired in part by Andrew Clyde, an Athens gun shop owner. In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service took $950,000 from Clyde’s account. Clyde’s business had been doing well, and he told The Times in 2017 that at the time the money was taken, his store had almost sold out.
Civil asset forfeiture allows governments to seize property they believe someone obtained illegally.
Charges were never brought against Clyde, and he struggled to make ends meet with his business.
“I didn’t have any money for payroll,” Clyde said in 2018. “I had to go borrow $80,000 in order to make payroll and to pay some of the accounts payable of the stuff that had started to come in.”
Clyde eventually reached a settlement with the IRS and was able to get $900,000 back. He said that the bill signed by Trump Monday can prevent future misuse of civil asset forfeiture practices.
"In 2015, I and two others who are named in this bill testified in Congress against this abuse by the IRS," Clyde said in a statement. "The RESPECT Act, which passed unanimously this year in both the House and the Senate, is the response of the Congress to those abuses. … It should prevent any other law-abiding citizen from ever suffering the abuse that I suffered. I highly commend Congressman Collins and Congressman Lewis for their parts in helping to make this much needed legislation become law."
At the time his money was taken, Clyde had been accused of “structuring,” or setting up bank deposits in order to avoid reporting to the IRS. Under previous law, the IRS could seize money if individuals had routinely “structured” deposits or withdrawals of less than $10,000.
The RESPECT Act adjusts IRS rules to only allow forfeiture for “structuring” if the money comes from an illegal source or is used to hide illegal activity. Prosecutors will be required to demonstrate probable cause that the seized money was somehow used illegally.
“For too long, hardworking individuals and small business owners — like Andrew Clyde — have fallen victim as the IRS has abused civil asset forfeiture. With the RESPECT Act finally becoming law, law-abiding citizens can rest easy knowing they no longer have to fight the federal government just to prove their innocence,” Collins said in a statement.
The RESPECT Act was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Atlanta.