Owl: US Government Criminality from Local to National

01 Poverty, 03 Economy, 06 Family, 07 Other Atrocities, 09 Justice, 11 Society, Corruption, Government
Who? Who?

Government larceny and criminality just never ends, it seems to be increasing, especially against those who can least to afford to defend themselves against it:

Another Way to Kill Small U.S. Farmers: Seize Their Bank Accounts on Phony Charges

The farmers, Randy Sowers and his wife Karen, made deposits totaling more than $295,000 from May 2011 to February 2012, but each transaction was less than $10,000. Now they are being accused of “structuring,” a violation of federal currency reporting requirements, as the feds are accusing them of deliberately depositing money in increments of less than $10,000 in an attempt to evade Currency Transaction Reporting requirements. The dairy farmer’s “crime” stems from his weekly sales at local farmers’ markets. The sales averaged about the same amount each week and, dutifully, the Sowers deposited them. They’d reportedly never even heard of the Bank Secrecy Act or “structuring,” but that was of no interest to the feds—the consistency of the amount the Sowers deposited, always less than $10,000, raised red flags to the feds, who claimed that this was indicative of a crime. The government promptly seized about $70,000 from the bank account, then issued a warrant for the seizures. The raid on the Sowers was conducted by an agency created in 2009 to go after money-laundering criminals. The agency started out with a bang by seizing $1.2 billion from a real money launderer, but it appears that what it’s interested in now is making criminals out of small business persons, including small farmers.

But small business people are not the only targets of government and corporate predators. Poor people are too, as evidenced in this Mother Jones article:

How Corporations and Local Governments Use the Poor As Piggy Banks

It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell…According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80 to 90 percent of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor. And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.

 

Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage. Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal-justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money. In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender. The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.