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Maryland General Assembly

New bill aims to protect cash from government

Rachel Baye

The state Senate is expected to Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill passed last year prohibiting law enforcement from seizing a suspect’s cash if it totals less than $300.

But three state senators say that bill doesn’t go far enough to prevent the government from taking citizens’ property. The group has introduced a bill that would prohibit the government from seizing someone’s money before convicting them of a crime.

The hope, they said Tuesday, is that their new measure could help prevent things like what happened to Randy Sowers and his wife Karen, who run South Mountain Creamery, which sells free range eggs and milk from grass-fed cows in Frederick County.

“We handle a lot of cash because we do farmers markets and we only accept cash,” said Randy Sowers.

One day when Karen Sowers went to the bank to make a deposit, the teller asked her to keep the deposit to less than $10,000, to help her avoid some paperwork. Soon after, the Sowers learned that this is a federal crime, under a law usually used to catch money launderers and drug traffickers. Federal agents showed up with an order from a judge to seize $65,000 in the Sowers’ bank account.

The Sowers family eventually settled. They gave up more than $28,000 to avoid a lengthy legal battle while the government held onto their money, Randy Sowers said Tuesday.

“If somebody is involved in the drug trade, then they should have their assets seized and forfeited,” said state Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat and one of the bill’s three sponsors. “But the idea that somebody can have their money taken, never charged with a crime, never convicted of a crime, and the government kind of assumes that they can keep that money, I think goes against everything our country stands for."