Small business owners who deal in large cash transactions have to be very careful about who they do business with. Some of their customers could be criminals trying to launder illegal proceeds, and if an unsuspecting business owner fails to report suspicious activity, federal agents may come knocking.
This was the scenario “celebrity jeweler” Zameer Lokhandwala, 46, of Frisco, TX, recently found himself in. The jeweler, whose client roster reportedly includes current and former Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks as well as famous rappers, is required to justify certain business transactions in order to convince the government he isn’t in league with alleged drug dealers.
According to sources, the celebrity jeweler and his wife are the owners of Marc Samuels Jewelers, which has locations in Grapevine and Frisco. The couple has been in business for about a decade. Federal agents raided their home in June 2020 and seized almost $1 million in cash as well as expensive jewelry, gold bars, and two vehicles, records show.
The jeweler from Texas is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors to prove there was no criminal intent in any of his business transactions, but the government filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against his property on December 17 in an attempt to keep upwards of $902,000 that was seized.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that enables law enforcement agencies to seize cash, vehicles, real estate, and other assets on the mere suspicion the property is connected to criminal activity, even without charging the property owner with any legal discrepancies. In most states, law enforcement agencies are entitled to keep the property or, more typically, the proceeds from its sale. Critics argue this profit incentive encourages agencies to pursue strategies that maximize forfeitures rather than fairly administer justice.
The government has become increasingly aggressive in using civil forfeiture to go after the property as part of its efforts to crack down on money laundering. Concealing the source of criminal proceeds by buying luxury goods or real estate is a popular money laundering tactic; it is for this reason that banks are required to report cash transactions of over $10,000 as well as suspicious financial activity that might indicate money laundering to the IRS.
Business owners who deal in expensive products and aren’t aware of this particular aspect of the law can end up triggering an IRS investigation, losing their property, and exposing themselves to criminal liability. The jeweler’s attorney told the press that his client’s business involves a large volume of jewelry transactions, and even with meticulous records, it can be difficult to satisfy all of the law’s requirements.
The burden of proof in civil forfeiture cases is often less than in criminal forfeiture, which requires prosecutors to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before a property can be seized. As a result, many property owners relinquish their property rather than fight a costly forfeiture lawsuit.
Texas recently received a ‘D+’ grade for its civil forfeiture laws in a new report by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that examines and scores civil forfeiture laws in every U.S. state. The report stated that Texas has a low bar to forfeit, poor protections for the innocent, and a large profit incentive, with law enforcement keeping up to 70 percent of forfeiture proceeds. Anyone who has had their property seized by police or federal agents in Texas should therefore immediately consult a civil forfeiture defense attorney.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your property been seized by police or federal agents? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.