At the same time, the increasing militarization of law enforcement, most visibly demonstrated by the growing use of massive, SWAT-type raids on businesses and individuals, sometimes with federal involvement or authorization, is heightening concerns that this country is moving toward a police state.
Mountain Pure SWAT Raid: The Movie
Mountain Pure Water, LLC is headquartered on Interstate 30 just outside the town of Little Rock, Arkansas. The company manufactures and distributes beverage containers, spring water, fruit drinks, and teas. In January 2012, about 50 federal agents, led by Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) Special Agent Cynthia Roberts and IRS Special Agent Bobbi Spradlin, swooped in, guns drawn. Without explanation they shut down plant operations, herded employees into the cafeteria, and confined them to the room for hours. They could not so much as use the bathroom without police escort. Cell phones were confiscated and all Internet and company phones were disabled.
Plant Manager Court Stacks was at his desk when police burst through his office door, guns drawn and pointed at him—a thoroughly unprofessional violation of basic firearms discipline in this circumstance, and the cause of numerous accidental SWAT killings.
According to Mountain Pure CEO John Stacks, the search warrant was related to questions about an SBA loan he secured through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to recover tornado losses to his home, warehouse, and associated equipment. Mr. Stacks says the SBA apparently doesn’t believe that assets listed as damaged in the storm were actually damaged.
The search warrant was extremely vague and some agents’ actions may have been illegal, according to company attorney, Timothy Dudley. Comptroller Jerry Miller was taken to a private room and interrogated for over three hours by SBA Special Agent Cynthia Roberts, the raid leader. He requested an attorney and was told “That ain’t gonna happen.” According to Miller, the SBA unilaterally changed the terms of Stacks’ loan. He says he asked Roberts what gave the SBA authority to do that, and she responded, “We’re the federal government, we can do what we want, when we want, and there is nothing you can do about it.” Miller said during the raid Roberts “strutted around the place like she was Napoleon.”
Stacks said the company has had three IRS audits in the past three years, including one following the raid, with no problems. The SBA has still not filed any charges, continues to stonewall about the raid’s purpose, and refuses to release most of the property seized during the raid.
Quality Assurance Director Katy Depriest, who doubles as the company crisis manager, described agents’ “Gestapo tactics.” She added that they confiscated CDs of college course work and educational materials for a class she had been taking that resulted in her flunking the course. Those materials have not yet been returned.
Attempts were made to contact Ms. Roberts for this article, but she is no longer employed by the SBA. Questions were directed to the Little Rock, Arkansas U.S. Attorney’s office. The USA’s public affairs officer had no comment; however they have convened a grand jury to evaluate the case.
Because law enforcement refused repeated requests to respond for this article, we have only Mountain Pure’s side of the story, but they make a compelling case:
•Many company employees were willing to discuss this raid on the record.
•Mountain Pure and several employees have sued Special Agents Roberts and Spradlin.
•Mr. Stacks commissioned a video about the raid, reproduced here.
The video includes testimony from Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of famed Gibson Guitar Corp., which suffered two such raids, and another raid target, Duncan Outdoors Inc. The video does not attempt to establish anyone’s guilt or innocence, but rather highlights law enforcement’s heavy-handed tactics in executing SWAT-style search warrants against legitimate businesses. Gibson has settled with the Justice Department in a case fraught with legal ambiguities, while Duncan has been indicted for violations of currency transaction reporting requirements.
Mr. Stacks claims he has gotten calls from many companies that have suffered similar raids, but they are afraid to speak out. Here are a few examples that have made national news:
•FDA officials, U.S. Marshals, and the Pennsylvania State Police raided an Amish farm in 2011 for selling raw milk.
•A Department of Education SWAT team raided a man’s home, “dragged him out in his boxer shorts, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him” in front of his three young children. They were looking for evidence of his estranged wife’s financial aid fraud.
•66 year-old George Norris spent two years in jail following a USFWS raid that nailed him for filing incorrect forms on imported orchids.
•A Fairfax, Virginia optometrist being served a warrant for illegal gambling was killed by a SWAT team member whose firearm accidentally discharged. He answered the door in his bathrobe, unarmed and unaware that he was even under investigation.
Read more from this story HERE.