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In the News: US charges Iowa widow over how she deposited husband's cash

An Iowa widow is charged with a crime and had nearly $19,000 seized from her bank after depositing her late husband's legally earned money in a way that evaded federal reporting requirements.

Janet Malone, 68, of Dubuque, is facing civil and criminal proceedings under a law intended to help investigators track large sums of cash tied to criminal activity such as drug trafficking and terrorism. But some members of Congress and libertarian groups have complained that the IRS and federal prosecutors are unfairly using it against ordinary people who deposit lawfully obtained money in increments below $10,000.

At issue is a law requiring banks to report deposits of more than $10,000 cash to the federal government. Anyone who breaks deposits into increments below that level to avoid the requirement is committing a crime known as "structuring" — whether their money is legal or not.

The IRS has increasingly used civil forfeiture proceedings to seize money from individuals and small businesses suspected of structuring violations, according to a review by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group. The agency seized $242 million in 2,500 cases from 2005 to 2012 — a third of which arose from nothing more than cash transactions under $10,000. Nearly half was returned after owners challenged the action, often a year later.

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