by Dale Chappell
Imagine being able to “hide” your money in an account where the government supposedly has no access to it and cannot force you to pay any court-ordered financial obligations, such as child support or restitution to victims of your crimes. That’s what critics are saying federal prisoners are able to do with the financial accounts held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
The Trust Fund account is one giant account managed by BOP staff where federal prisoners can store their money to purchase commissary items, phone and email minutes, and send funds to family or book sellers to have books delivered. However, these accounts are not like normal bank accounts and are not subject to the same scrutiny as what the general public might face with their personal accounts. Instead, law enforcement agencies say that there’s a risk of abuse, money laundering, and corruption because of the lack of oversight of these Trust Fund accounts.
As a whole, the BOP’s Trust Fund account totals more than $100 million. But it’s the 20 or so prisoners who have accounts that exceed $100,000 totaling more than $3 million that have some concerned. This is according to the Washington Post, which cites an anonymous source within the BOP. It is not illegal for prisoners to have large sums of money in their accounts. Sometimes the sale of property or cashing out retirement accounts wind up in a prisoner’s Trust Fund account, simply because there’s no other place to put it. Not all prisoners are fortunate enough to have an account at a regular bank, where their money can earn interest for them. Instead, they are left with the BOP’s non-interest bearing Trust Fund account—which earns interest for the BOP, though.
Under the Bank Secrecy Act, everyday citizens who move more than $10,000 can be flagged for suspicion to law enforcement. That law, however, doesn’t apply to the BOP’s Trust Fund system because it’s not a true bank account, nor is the BOP a financial institution under the law.
But that doesn’t stop the nation’s highest law enforcement office from creating its own rules to enforce monitoring of Trust Fund accounts. On August 19, 2021, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco issued a directive to the BOP to “strengthen appropriate monitoring and reporting of Trust Fund accounts.” The directive said that “the Bureau must take appropriate steps to prevent inmates from using such accounts to engage in unlawful activity or to avoid obligations like paying court-ordered restitution to victims.”
The BOP responded swiftly to this directive and issued its own directive to the wardens at its 122 prisons across the country. This new policy requires wardens to file a monthly report with the Attorney General’s Office on: the account balances of prisoners; prisoners who have more than $2,500 in their accounts; abnormally large deposits made to a prisoner’s account; any source making a deposit into multiple accounts; and any former prisoners making a deposit into a prisoner’s account.
This oversight is needed, law enforcement says, because with so much money in the Trust Fund system it’s an invitation for prisoners to bribe prison guards. A massive influx of money was injected into the Trust Fund system in May, when the Internal Revenue Service sent checks to almost 38,000 prisoners totaling more than $38 million. These were the “stimulus payments” nearly every U.S. resident received, including prisoners. Given the government’s penchant for taking people’s money at every opportunity, keeping more than a minimum amount in a prison trust account seems like a bad idea.
Sources: washingtonpost.com, adn.com, msn.com
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