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IRS Puts Family Family Through Hell Without Any Evidence Of Wrongdoing

Vocatura’s Bakery, in Norwich, Connecticut, has been in business for nearly century. It is run by David, 53, and his brother Larry, 69. Until a few years ago, it was a cash only business that serves up pizza and sandwiches, as well as operating as a commercial bakery. Their grandfather Frank founded Vocatura’s in Rhode Island in 1919, before the family moved it to Norwich in the 1950s. They’re probably best known for their Italian grinder — a sandwich packed with salami, capicola, ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato, on a soft, slightly chewy sub roll that’s “as big as your forearm.”

Yet, in May 2013, the IRS seized their entire bank account of $68,000 and wanted to know if Vocatura and his brother Larry were trafficking drugs or running a prostitution ring. The brothers had no idea where that accusation came from. Agents said the business raised red flags because of a series of cash deposits in sums under $10,000, the amount at which banks are required to report transactions to the federal government. They said this behavior was consistent with a crime known as structuring, which the IRS defines as making calculated financial transactions in order to skirt reporting requirements.

The IRS had no proof of wrongdoing, but due to a controversial law enforcement tool known as civil asset forfeiture, they didn’t need any evidence to seize every penny in the Vocaturas’ bank account: $68,382.22. On Tuesday, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on behalf of Vocatura’s Bakery, demanding that the IRS promptly return their money. They argued that this was the latest example of the government seizing property. Hours after the suit was filed, the IRS said it would finally give the Vocaturas their money back. But the prosecutor didn’t drop the case.

Yet, the prosecutor now wants to look into their finances dating almost a decade back. David Vocatura said, “I didn’t know what structuring was that day, until the agent explained to me what it was. We’re good, hardworking people and we run a clean, legitimate business.” He continued, “We gave them all kinds of records, we’ve cooperated with them since Day One, personal and business information, anything they’ve wanted. They checked us out.”

In addition, earlier this month, Peter S. Jongbloed, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, served the Vocaturas a grand jury subpoena calling for them to turn over every financial record from the six years between March 2007 and April 2013, so the agency could finally begin investigating the business’s tax and regulatory compliance. Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the Institute for Justice who is representing the Vocaturas said, “So now they’re going to conduct this investigation into the bakery in some effort to try to find something that will make it look like they were doing the right thing all along.”

Then, in February, 33 months after the bakery’s bank account was seized, Jongbloed broke his silence. He offered the Vocaturas an opportunity to end their ordeal, while also preventing the public backlash that had impeded recent structuring cases. Though the federal government had still not filed criminal charges against the brothers, Jongbloed wanted them to plead guilty to structuring, a felony, and admit that they’d “acted with the intent to evade the reporting requirement.”

If the Vocaturas agree, they would face a potential four-year prison sentence and would have to agree to forfeit both the initial $68,000 and an additional $160,000 in personal assets between them. If the IRS can get the Vocatura to plead guilty, thye could also keep the brothers from speaking out about their case. Johnson added, “The government first punished the Vocaturas by taking their property, then they tried to get them to plead guilty to charges, and only when they refused to plead guilty did the government investigate.”

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