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When is it a crime to withdraw money from the bank?

Dennis Hastert has not been indicted on a single charge of sexual abuse. He has also not been charged with any bribery scheme or for illegally paying money that he was not allowed to pay. Instead, the indictment of Mr. Hastert, who is the former Republican Speaker of the House, lays out two different counts: taking money out of the bank the wrong way, and then lying to the FBI about what he did with the money.

Is this another government over-prosecution, punishing an individual for concealing payments that, while certainly damaging to his reputation, were not otherwise illegal?

The headlines of Hastert's indictment focus on the allegations that he was paying hush money in exchange for wrongdoing that happened long ago. But that is not what he is charged with.  Instead,  he is charged with "structuring," making repeated four-figure cash withdrawals from his bank in order to avoid the generation of cash transaction reports, which banks are required to send the government about every transaction over $10,000. The purpose of these reports, which trace back to the 1970s, were to help the government identify members of organized crime and tax evaders.  However, these cash transaction reports were primarily intended to monitor deposits, not withdrawals, where the tax on the money has presumably already been paid.

It is certainly not illegal to make a withdrawal for $7,000, $8,000, or $9,000. A crime only occurs when an individual knew about the reporting requirement and intended to evade it. The scary part is that there is no element of the crime of structuring that requires that the money is being used for something illegal. So, a person who engages in structuring because of a simple desire to avoid being monitored, despite having no intention of using the money for an illegal purpose, is committing a crime.

While the intentions for the existence of these laws were originally valid, they must be balanced against current privacy concerns.  Why is the government entitled to know when and how a citizen withdraws their money? We must ensure that the government's motivations for these laws are entirely pure, and not simply to prevent large unnoticed sums of money from being reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

Source: New York Times

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