On July 28, the Albuquerque Journal reported that federal law enforcement agents have seized $841,883.84 from the business and personal bank accounts of Reza Ella, a used car dealer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M.
A civil forfeiture action filed against Ella claims that Discount Auto Sales does not make enough profit to account for $1,728,722.21 that he deposited in local banks during the time period from Sep. 19, 2011 to July 3, 2012. It further alleges that he engaged in structuring to avoid having banks file Currency Transaction Reports (CTR) with the Department of the Treasury. United States Code, Title 31, Subtitle IV, Chapter 53, Subchapter II, Section 5313 requires a financial institution to generate a CTR whenever that institution is involved in a transaction in an amount that exceeds $10,000. The complaint against Ella does not allege that he is involved in a criminal enterprise.
Ella claims that he is innocent and has been beleaguered by federal agents since around 2001. “It’s my name. My ethnicity,” Ella said in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal. “I don’t like saying that, but what other reason can they have for trying to destroy me, my business. I like being American. I’m proud to be an American, but I feel like I’m under friendly fire.”
Ella was born in Iran and came to America in 1978 on a student visa. After attending college in Texas, he moved to Oklahoma and obtained a green card. He later moved to New Mexico, became a naturalized American citizen in the early 1990s, and has been running Discount Auto Sales in Albuquerque for 23 years.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office claims that it is not prosecuting Ella for his ethnicity, saying, “To be clear, Mr. Ella’s national origin, ethnicity and/or religion played no role whatsoever in the United States’ decisions to file the two forfeiture actions. Instead, the United States filed these actions based on bank records of Mr. Ella’s financial transactions and other information set forth in the civil complaints.”
As for the effect on Ella and his business, he said, “They ambush you. They don’t tell you they are seizing your bank accounts. You find out when checks are returned. You go to the bank and everyone stares at you. They think you’re crooked.” He also said that the number of overdue payments on more than 900 car loans that he has outstanding is increasing because he is preoccupied with the forfeiture case.
This is Ella’s second fight with federal prosecutors; he was also accused of structuring cash withdrawals in 2007. A civil action for $489,732.02 filed against him then resulted in him getting back all but $12,000 of the seized money.
The current case is expected to head to trial, as Ella’s lawyers intend to ask for a jury trial and are not looking to negotiate a deal.
From a philosophical libertarian perspective, the federal agents have violated Ella’s logical right of private property ownership and have thereby committed theft.