United States v. Abair, No. 13-2498 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Abair emigrated from Russia in 2005 and married an American citizen. Abair owned an apartment in Moscow. After her divorce, Abair sold the apartment and deposited the proceeds with Citibank Moscow. She signed a contract to buy an Indiana home for cash. Citibank refused to transfer funds because her local account was in her married name and the Moscow account used her birth name. Over two weeks Abair withdrew the daily maximum ($6400) from Citibank ATMs and deposited $6400 to $9800 at her local bank. A deposit on Tuesday, May 31 followed the Memorial Day weekend and was posted with one made on Saturday, pushing her “daily” deposit over the $10,000 trigger for reporting, 31 U.S.C. 5313(a). Abair was charged with structuring financial transactions to evade reporting. IRS agents testified that during her unrecorded interview, Abair, who is not fluent in English, revealed knowledge of the reporting rules. Abair testified that she was aware of the limit when she spoke with the agents, but had learned about it after making the deposits, when she asked why identification was required. She said her deposit amounts were based on how much cash would fit in her purse. Abair was convicted and agreed to forfeit the entire proceeds. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the government lacked a good faith basis for believing that Abair lied on tax and financial aid forms and that the court erred (Rule 608(b)) by allowing the prosecutor to ask accusatory, prejudicial questions about them. On the record, Abair is at most a first offender, according to the court, which expressed “serious doubts” that forfeiture of $67,000 comports with the “principle of proportionality” under the Excessive Fines Clause.