NM used car dealer fights forfeiture claim by feds

July 28, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Albuquerque used car dealer who is fighting the federal government’s seizure of $841,000 from his business and personal bank accounts claims he’s being singled out by federal authorities because he’s a naturalized U.S. citizen who came from Iran.

The Albuquerque Journal [auth] reports ( that federal authorities deny that Reza Ella is being singled out because of his Iranian heritage and instead alleged in a civil forfeiture claim that Ella’s Discount Auto Sales doesn’t generate enough business to account for the more than $1.7 million he deposited in local banks over 11 months.

They also allege that Ella structured deposits to keep them under $10,000 to avoid having the banks file currency transaction reports with the Department of the Treasury. Still, the federal complaint against Ella does not allege that he is involved in a criminal enterprise.

Ella said he first started getting questions from federal agents about people of Iranian descent around the time of the 9/11 attacks and that he’s done nothing wrong. “It’s my name. My ethnicity,” Ella said in an interview. “I don’t like saying that, but what other reason can they have for trying to destroy me, my business.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Ella’s ethnicity never came into play in its decisions to file this forfeiture action and another one in 2007 against Ella. “Instead, the United States filed these actions based on bank records of Mr. Ella’s financial transactions and other information set forth in the civil complaints,” the office said in a statement.

Federal law enforcement agencies don’t like the way Ella makes bank deposits and allege he structures deposits to avoid generating reports designed to combat cash flows used by terror cells and drug cartels.

Ella finances and holds the car loans, then receives bi-weekly or monthly payments from the people who purchased his cars. Some pay in cash. Sometimes, he cashes their payroll checks.

He said he uses multiple banks for business reasons — one bank for out-of-state business, mostly consisting of car auctions; a second bank for local business transactions; and a third bank for his personal banking.

In 2007, federal prosecutors tried to seize $489,000 through a civil action that ended with Ella getting almost all his money back. The feds got to keep a grand total of $12,000, according to the settlement agreement. In the 2007 case, the government accused Ella of structuring cash withdrawals from banks to avoid federal reporting requirements.

Ella said he agreed to the negotiated settlement in the 2007 forfeiture case to get most of his money back and because he believed that would end his problems with federal law enforcement.

Ella’s attorneys said they don’t intend to negotiate a deal this time and have asked for a jury trial.

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