Michigan Civil Forfeiture

Dehko et al. v. Holder

Feds Seize Entire Bank Accounts of Family Grocery Store and Independent Gas Station

Terry Dehko Forfeiture


IJ client Terry Dehko and his family have owned and operated the Schott's Market in Fraser, Michigan, for 35 years. The Dehkos had $35,000 taken from them by federal law enforcement officials through a process known as “civil forfeiture."


Michigan Forfeiture Video
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Can the government use civil forfeiture to take your money when you have done nothing wrong—and then pocket the proceeds?  The IRS thinks so.
For over 30 years, Terry Dehko has successfully run a grocery store in Fraser, Mich., with his daughter Sandy.  In January 2013, without warning, the federal government used civil forfeiture to seize all of the money from the Dehkos’ store bank account (more than $35,000) even though they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.  Their American Dream is now a nightmare.
Federal agents in Michigan struck again in March and April of 2013, when they seized the bank account of Mark Zaniewski’s independently owned gas station (more than $70,000).  Neither the Dehkos nor Zaniewski were charged with any crime—the Government merely believed without any real investigation that the deposits of the lawfully earned money from their legitimate businesses were suspicious. 
But federal civil forfeiture law features an appalling lack of due process:  It empowers the government to seize private property from Americans without ever charging, let alone convicting, them of a crime.  Perversely, the government then pockets the proceeds while providing no prompt way to get a court to review the seizure. 
The Dehkos and Mark Zaniewski teamed up with the Institute for Justice to fight back in federal court last year and, after nearly a year of expensive litigation, the Government returned their money.  The Dehkos and Zaniewski are continuing the fight, however, to ensure that the Government respects due process whenever it seizes money in the future.  A victory will vindicate not just their right to be free from abusive forfeiture tactics, but the right of every American not to have their property wrongfully seized by government.

Under pressure from the waves of negative publicity surrounding its abuse of federal forfeiture laws, the IRS announced in October 2014 that it would no longer pursue lawfully earned money in structuring-related cases. Accordingly, the Dehkos and Mark Zaniewski dismissed their lawsuit against the IRS, which sought to curb its misconduct in precisely those cases.


Essential Background


Backgrounder: Federal Lawsuit in Michigan Challenges Forfeiture Abuse

Client Photo

Client Video

Latest Release: Federal Court Refuses to Hold IRS Accountable (June 11, 2014)

Related Video: Policing for Profit

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Complaint (PDF)

Launch Release: Taken: Federal Lawsuit in Michigan Challenges Forfeiture Abuse (September 25, 2013) Brief in Support of Motion for Prompt Post Seizure Hearing (PDF)

Case Timeline

Case Filed:

July 19, 2013

IJ Begins Involvement in Case: September 25, 2013

Court Filed:

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan


None Available

Current Court: 

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan



Additional Releases

Reports, Maps, Charts and Facts

Media Advisory: Federal Court Holds Hearing on Motion to Dismiss Forfeiture Fight (February 19, 2014)

Download Policing for Profit: The Abuse of Civil Asset Forfeiture

Detail: State Forfeiture Grades and Map
EndForfeiture.com: IJ's Initiative to End Policing for Profit

Release: IRS Backs Down: Michigan Forfeiture Cases Voluntarily Dismissed; Government Will Return Seized Money to Small-Business Owners; Federal Lawsuit Continues Over Right to Prompt hearing (November 15, 2013)

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Opinion: GEORGE F. WILL: The heavy hand of the IRS seizes innocent Americans’ assets Washington Post (April 30, 2014)

Article: Assault by Civil Forfeiture USA Today  (September 25, 2013)

 Release: Michigan Forfeiture Victims To Get Their Day in Court; IRS Must Produce Witnesses to Explain Forfeiture Practices (November 8, 2013)

Article: DEHKO: Bullied by the IRS The Washington Times  (September 26, 2013)

Video: Forfeiture Abuse: Even Your Drums Aren't Safe From the Police; (February 28, 2011)

Video: IJ's Scott Bullock discusses the Forfeiting Justice report; (November 18, 2010)

Video: Fox Business: IJ's Scott Bullock discusses "policing for profit" with David Asman; (August 10, 2010)


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