On a summer day last July, McLellan, who hadn’t yet arrived at the store, received a phone call from one of his employees summoning him to L&M. More than a dozen federal agents had flooded into his business—officers from North Carolina’s Alcohol and Law Enforcement, the local police department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation—and they were asking for him.

When McLellan arrived at the store, he met two federal agents dressed in suits who asked to speak with him in private. McLellan led the agents to L&M’s stock room, where they asked him if he knew of the term “structuring.”

He had no idea.

The federal agents then showed McLellan paperwork that included deposits to the store’s account at Lumbee Guaranty Bank. The statements showed two deposits made within a 24-hour period totaling $11,400.

The statements, they said, indicated he had a history of consistent cash deposits of less than $10,000, which is illegal.

Then, the agents told the small business owner something that shook him to his core: The Internal Revenue Service had seized all of the money in L&M’s bank account: $107,702.66.

“‘Are you telling me you took my money?’” McLellan recalled asking the agents. “I didn’t understand what was going on. They dropped a bomb on me. I was lost for five to 10 minutes. I can’t believe that y’all guys can walk in here and tell me y’all took every bit of my money out of the bank.”

Continue reading →