A South Korean immigrant vet, who spent four years serving in the U.S. military, saw his life fall around him in shambles after the Internal Revenue Service decided to seize his life savings on nothing but a “hunch.”
Oh Suk Kwon left South Korea in 1976 at the age of 32, with his wife and two children, and served as a fleet mechanic in the U.S. Army. After four years, he was honorably discharged. He then worked in an electrical plant and as an auto mechanic before buying a gas station with his wife in Elliot City, Maryland, in 2007.
Just a few years into the business, his nightmare started.
The IRS targeted Kwon’s station (and hundreds of other businesses) in a now-discredited attempt at catching money-laundering criminals. The investigators showed up at his home and accused him of “structuring” — depositing money in increments of less than $10,000 — and seized $59,000 from Kwon.
Under the terms of 1970 law called the Bank Secrecy Act, banks are required to report any transaction bigger than $10,000. Many criminal organization, tax evaders and terrorists groups deposit their money in transactions of less than $10,000 to avoid government scrutiny and that’s why banks were supposed to report people making lots of cash deposits in smaller amounts.
However, the system was flawed.
In more than 90 percent of the cases, the government found the transactions were legal and were done only with the intention of avoiding government scrutiny. This was the case with Kwon as well.
The report also found investigators violated policies when interviewing the people by failing to notify them of their rights and improperly bargaining to resolve civil cases.
An IRS representative said Kwon pleaded guilty to restructuring charges, but the agency failed to produce any criminal charges against him.
The IRS later changed its policy to ensure no other businesses would suffer this way.
Amid it all, Kwon’s gas station went under, his wife died of what Kwon says are stress-related causes and he moved from the neighborhood because of the shame.
However, now that the investigation has ended, the IRS still won’t admit its mistake and refuses to give back Kwon’s $59,117.
Kwon tried to ask for his money in August as well but was met with the same refusal.
His attorney, Edward Griffins, petitioned the Department of Justice citing Kwon’s impeccable record but Claiborne Porter, the DoJ’s acting principal deputy chief of asset recovery, said Kwon “has not provided any additional information.”
Now, the 73-year-old man is very disappointed his country, which he has defended for four years, is treating him this way. He also said even if he recovered the money, it would not bring his wife back or get his honor back.
“They saw me as Korean. As a veteran,” he said. “They were surprised to see me as a criminal. I will never forget that.”
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez