Sometime Reason magazine contributor William L. Anderson at Lew Rockwell.com delivers an infuriating tale of a lawyer, Johnny Gaskins, who had often succeeded against state prosecutors. Gaskins has been convicted and faces possible lifetime imprisonment for violating federal law against "structuring" financial transactions.
In real-world terms, this means he's screwed for depositing money in his bank in increments of less than $10,000 per deliberately in order to avoid reporting requirements triggered by that amount.
Was he doing this to hide some criminal activity? Not even the prosecutors thought so. As Anderson relates, quoting a Raleigh News and Observer story:
This law was passed as an "ancillary crime" to give prosecutors leverage in cases where people had amassed huge amounts of cash via drug sales or other illegal activities and were trying to avoid detection as well as avoid paying taxes on their money. However, that clearly was not the case here, as the N&O continues:
Gaskins filed forms to the IRS accounting for more than $450,000 in cash payments, according to evidence at trial. Prosecutors agreed that he had filed and paid his taxes.
He didn't dispute that he intentionally divided his money, but he testified that it was for innocent reasons. His habits, he said, were born of an exposure to a criminal world that most people only see on television dramas.
Prosecutors did not offer evidence of any other motive for Gaskins' behavior. They said at trial that Gaskins should have known better.
"The point of the law is to make sure we don't have people who try to fool the bank," federal prosecutor Randall Galyon told jurors last week. "The fact that he was trying is against the law."
So, we had an attorney who was paid legally in cash, decided he might be robbed, so he deposited the money in a bank. Furthermore, he already had paid taxes on his cash earnings, so it is clear that he had no criminal motives.
Furthermore, I can guarantee the readers that there was a motive that was not mentioned, but well should be: prosecutors would have tried to frame Gaskins had he deposited all of his money at once. That kind of a deposit – which prosecutors insist that he had to make in order to be legal – would have sent alerts to the police and prosecutors, who would have tried to make a drug case against him, claiming he actually had received that money illegally. The question is this: Why were prosecutors hell-bent on going after him? The answer lies in the success that Gaskins had in his career:
He had received death threats and had been harassed for more than a decade after he persuaded a jury to spare the life of a client convicted of killing a popular Raleigh police detective. Some of Gaskins' clients were robbed and tortured, targeted because they carried large amounts of cash, court filings show.
Anderson and Candice Jackson wrote in Reason magazine's April issue about federal prosecutors turning sports rulebreaking into a federal offense.