Following the news of Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s indictment, I tweeted the following:
"Structuring" is a bullshit charge used only when authorities are determined to get someone but no real evidence of wrongdoing exists.
— Brian Garst (@BrianGarst) May 28, 2015
I had to simplify a bit due to the space limitations of the medium, as often times the issue is the passing of a statute of limitations or that what evidence exists is insufficient to convict in a court of law. In either case, the point remains the same: “structuring” is one of many nonsense crimes that exists only for when the government wants to punish someone it can’t otherwise convict of a real crime.
Here’s the context. First, they destroyed the right to basic privacy through use of the Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to snitch on customers making transactions over $10,000.
Many Americans don’t think the government needs, or has any right to know, about their financial transactions. So they avoided triggering the currency transactions reports by making deposits or withdrawals of less than $10,000. This angered the government bureaucrats, who apparently not only think they are entitled to know everything about you, but also that you can’t change your behavior in order to stop them. So they passed “anti-structuring” laws that criminalized otherwise normal behavior, and allow government agents to arrest anyone who deposits less than $10,000 as avoiding the reporting requirement.
Basically, the government finds you suspicious for making large financial transactions, and both suspicious and criminal for not making large financial transactions. And based on Hastert’s other charge, lying to federal agents, we also know that if the government asks why you are withdrawing your own money from your own bank account, you have to tell them. If you don’t they’ll lock you up for that, too.
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage
So why even pretend at this point that we have a right to privacy? A blanket requirement that the government has access to all financial transaction is outrageous, but that’s essentially what they’ve created already. The current system is actually worse, because it criminalizes ordinary behavior and allows government agents to arbitrarily arrest whomever they please. Even worse, when combined with civil asset forfeiture it allows them to steal the contents of entire bank accounts for nothing more than making deposits below $10,000. The Institute for Justice reports the IRS seized more than $242 million in more than 2,500 cases between 2005 and 2012 from alleged structuring. In more than 830 of those cases no other crime was alleged. That’s millions stolen by the government from individuals whose only crime is the bank normally.
None of this is a defense of Hastert personally. By all accounts he was being blackmailed (ironically also a crime of which he is the victim), and was paying very large sums of money to keep something quiet. He doesn’t owe the government an explanation for how he spends his own money, and whether or not the something he was trying to keep hidden is criminal or merely a source of personal shame we don’t know. He may be an awful person guilty of a horrendous crime, but if that’s the case he should be arrested for that particular crime. If the authorities can’t make the case, then too bad. Due process exists to protect the innocent, and it is the innocent who are threatened when fake crimes are invented to circumvent that process.
Structuring is a bullshit crime, and those reporting on Hastert’s indictment as anything other than an outrageous abuse of power are enabling a tyrannical government with no respect for boundaries between public and private life, or basic due process.