Asset Forfeiture

Claiming to Smell Pot, Airport Cops Steal $11,000 From College Student

Charles Clarke says he is a smoker, not a dealer, but it may not matter.

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Institute for Justice

When he visited relatives in Cincinnati the winter before last, Charles Clarke, a 24-year-old college student, took with him $11,000 that he had saved from wages, financial aid, and family gifts because he did not want to lose it. He did not count on the armed robbers at the airport, who took every last cent as he was about to board a flight back to Orlando in February 2014. Adding insult to injury, the thieves were cops, who justified confiscating Clarke's life savings by claiming his luggage and cash smelled like pot.

More than a year later, Clarke is still trying to get his money back, and now he has help from the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that has been fighting this sort of forfeiture abuse for years. While Clarke admits that he was a recreational pot smoker, he says he was never involved in the marijuana trade. "I'm not a drug dealer," he told Vox's German Lopez.  "I never have been."

But the federal prosecutors who are pursuing forfeiture of Clarke's money do not have to prove he was a drug dealer. If the case goes to trial, it is enough for them to show by a preponderance of the evidence—a much lower standard than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction—that the money had something to do with marijuana, whether it came from selling the drug or was intended to buy it. Meanwhile, the government keeps the cash based on "probable cause that it was proceeds of drug trafficking or was intended to be used in an illegal drug transaction," and the burden is on Clarke to recover it.

"Carrying cash is not a crime," says Insitute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth. "No one should lose their life savings when no drugs or evidence of any crime are found on them or their belongings." I.J. notes that the number of seizures by police at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport exploded from a couple dozen a year in the late 1990s to nearly 100, totaling $2 million, in 2013. By pursuing forfeiture under federal law through the Justice Department's Equitable Sharing Program, the airport cops can keep up to 80 percent of the loot while letting the feds do most of the work.

"Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement officials to keep the money they seize, which encourages them to target ordinary citizens like Charles," says Renée Flaherty, another I.J. lawyer. "Police and prosecutors cannot treat citizens like ATMs."

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86 responses to “Claiming to Smell Pot, Airport Cops Steal $11,000 From College Student

  1. These kinds of things won’t happen when they outlaw cash.

    1. I was thinking about just this the other day after someone mentioned they like to pay in cash to help out small businesses with possibly unclaimed money.

      I wonder if there really will come a day when they can track every single cent.

      1. I think there will always be something that functions like cash. The “informal” economy is huge.

    2. The voice of wisdom in me says that nonsense like this is just a way of driving up cryptocurrency prices, but I never know whether these people are self-interested manipulators or just idiots.

      1. A really good place for your crypto currency http://protonboron.com/portal/donate/

    3. No, it will be much easier. You’ll wake up and go online to check your account and find it empty, with a note that you have to initiate legal proceedings in the state furthest from you in order to prove the money was obtained legally.

  2. “Police and prosecutors cannot treat citizens like ATMs.”

    Apparently they can.

    1. Yeah, the words “cannot” and “should not” are not interchangeable.

  3. This story illustrates that there is no hard-and-fast separation between “social issues” and “economic issues.”

  4. Airport Cops?

    Is there a lot of crime at the Orlando Airport?

    1. Are we counting the crimes commiitted by those with badges?

      1. I heard that there was recently an armed robbery where $11,000 was stolen. Suspects are still at large.

        1. They’re not at large. We know damn well who and where they are, but they won’t be arrested, much less prosecuted, because they have a magic badge.

  5. Fine. If they want to start seizing assets without any proof of a crime, maybe we should force them to pay tax-free interest on the assets at 25% per month (compounded) that the government has it in its possession.

    Holding on to it for a long time will cripple law enforcement if they wrongfully confiscate assets. This will also help victims of this practice to use that 25% to pay attorney fees and any other costs incurred for the loss.

    1. Make it 50%, and they have three years to prove the case, or it automatically defaults back to the owner.

      1. Not a bad idea, actually. Interest goes into escrow, if they lose their case or “settle” they lose the cash plus escrow, if they win they retain everything. But statutory speedy trial requirements should apply, none of this three years business.

      2. what’s with the three years? People have things to DO with the money they’ve worked so hard to scrape together.
        First hearing within thirty days. ALL evidence for the government presented at that hearing. If owner manages to raise enough doubt, the court MUST dismis at that point. If owner needs more time to arrange to present evidence to counter government’s claims, give him up to an additional 90 days to gather and present. Shorter if he can manage.
        Once final verdict is goven, money must be returned if not convicted RIGHT THEN AND THERE, along with interest, and all attorney’s fees, costs, travel, and documented harms from owner directly arising from the loss of control of the funds. Anything less is tyranny on a a few orders of magnitude worse than King George Three and his minions ever committed.

  6. Woodchippers?

    1. They don’t fit through the airport metal detectors.

  7. Though many of the standard Repub establishment is still keen on the “war on drugs” and “always support law enforcement”, there is hope. Those of use who are small ‘l’ libertarians who still vote ‘R’ for the majority of federal elections are seeing a number of folks who are traditional conservatives who are also seeing the negative effects of trying to ban substance who hurt no one other than the user.

  8. the thieves were cops, who justified confiscating Clarke’s life savings by claiming his luggage and cash smelled like pot

    Since when is a cop’s nose good enough. That’s what K9 are for. I smell an upcoming union grievance.

    1. I didn’t know that police dogs had their own union!

  9. This kid was the victim of gangsters.
    Where’s Preet Bharara when you need him?

    1. One time I made a progressive’s head explode when I put forth the following metaphor.

      Say you are a shop owner, and the local gangsters comes around every week for protection money. Then every couple of years the gangsters allow you to vote on their leader from a list of guidos. Would that make you a member of the gang? Of course not. But that’s what government is.

      The guy sputtered a bit and then went back to the hive for reprogramming.

      1. Five minutes on Facebook, and I’m sure he felt a lot better.

        1. He would have been assured that everyone else is just as dumb as he is, and that feelz good.

      2. In order for the guidos to be legitimate, they have to steal the money while promising to use it to help you, then apologize when the money mysteriously disappears. Then the next day, you drive to your job over the moon crater sized potholes in the roads that the guidos would have fixed had the money not mysteriously disappeared.

      3. I’m what you cons (pardon my French) would no doubt call a prog and I’ve been saying for about 40 years that government IS organized crime. But that’s because government as we know it is and always has been a mechanism for keeping power in place. When you call for an end to government you’re simply aligning yourselves with those who are in power and who have the means to enforce it. When you say you don’t need government, you’re saying you think you’re rich enough or smart enough to deal with the “guidos” yourself. Good luck with that.

        1. I believe you when you say you are a progressive since, in one paragraph, you managed to say so many irrational and incorrect things. As an example, these guys are not “cons”. They’re libertarians and you should have the capacity to understand the difference but I won’t bet on it.

          But you got it right that government sometimes functions like criminals and the poor kid who was ripped off of his life savings is proof enough. What makes you a progressive is that you’re probably cool with that and nearly everybody else here recognizes the fundamental wrong done. Libertarians don’t want to be under the control of government criminals; progressives don’t seem to mind and appear to resent the rest of us who don’t want to bend over and just happily “take it” like you guys.

    2. On his knees under a certain judge’s bench.

  10. Serving and protecting… the political class.

  11. Not that I’m unsympathetic but was it really important to carry so much cash on hand while traveling?

    1. I don’t know why, but some people don’t trust banks.

      1. Yeah, but there are still options other than carrying a big wad of cash. A minor point, though, since that doesn’t make the situation right.

      2. and, for whatever reason, are incapable of keeping track of a dozen or so different stashes.

    2. With all due respect, that’s sort of like “why did she have to wear such a short skirt?”

      1. I don’t think she’s saying it’s his fault, just that it isn’t a good idea.

        1. More or less. Even in a perfect world where cops protect people from thieves rather than behave like them there’s still a substantial risk carrying large sums of money.

      2. Carrying so much cash on you is imprudent even if there were no cop thieves around. Get a money order at you local Walmart, if you’re paranoid enough to think that banks will steal your cash.

        1. OK, all good points.

          It’s like women avoiding ill-lit paths at night.

        2. I wonder at what point a money order paid to yourself is going to be treated like cash by cops and confiscated. After they force you to endorse it payable to the police department, of course.

        3. grrizzly — And let’s not forget that we should all allow the police to come into our homes anytime they feel like it for a complete inspection without a warrant. If you haven’t broken any laws it’s the “prudent” course of action, correct?

      3. With all due respect, that’s sort of like “why did she have to wear such a short skirt?”

        No, it’s more like “Why would you put 11,000 eggs in one basket?”

    3. apparently this man thought there was. As stated in the article: carrying cash is NOT a crime… yet. I’ve read of quite a number of folks driving along the highway, cash in car to pay for the car they are travelling to purchase, get pulled over for some hokey “reason”, cops start their illegal blather, traveller does not understand their rights, begins to answer questions, at some point the cop, using a scripted stream of questions and comments and a practiced tone of voice, begins to search the car and discovers the cash…. and seizes it on come cockamamie “excuse”.

      1. I’ve actually ben given conterfeit cashier’s checks, seen bogus money orders, and most places will not cash guarnteed funds financial instruments for large amounts of cash except for their own customers…. which eliminates interstate travellers… ATM’s have lmits of 400 to 1000 per day. So, how DO you handle it when you’ve found a car for $20K three states awway and the owner won’t take your personal check? Fly, drive, bus, train, hitchhike,… maybe bicycle is the only relatively safe way, but then some fiends may well just decide to bump you off the road and see what you have on you after you’ve died in the crash. So, how DOES one handle the transfer of such cash amounts?

    4. I’ve carried larger amounts to purchase a car from a private party. It sure makes the transaction go smoother than trying to pay with money orders, checks, etc.

      And, I traveled interstate to do it.

      I guess I was at risk and didn’t realize it. If a cop had stopped me, searched my person or vehicle and discovered the cash, s/he might have thought they hit the asset forfeiture lotto that day.

  12. Doesn’t “preponderance of the evidence” still required 50%?

    1. Technically it is 50.1%. But the degree of deference given to the government has morphed it into almost a perverse true contributory negligence standard that you used to see in a lot of civil suits (where your 1% contributory fault barred you from any claim for damages). It seems like ANY evidence, no matter how strained, of the money being involved in the commission of a crime meets the standard.

      1. It’s the **shrug** standard.

        **shrugs** “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

        You’d have better chances in Vegas or flipping a coin.

  13. “Carrying cash is not a crime,” says Insitute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth. “No one should lose their life savings when no drugs

    Part of our problem today is statements like this. There is no fucking need for ‘no drugs’ in that sentence. Making concessions to these assholes is just showing weakness and they do not respect weakness.

    Someone having a large amount of cash and drugs on them at the same time does not infer guilt upon the money. In order for the money to be confiscated, it should be proven in court that the money was obtained in an illegal way.

    There is no law anymore. The word has lost all meaning.

    1. Part of our problem today is statements like this. There is no fucking need for ‘no drugs’ in that sentence

      Agreed. According to the documents that created the various levels of government, the government has to actually convict a person of a crime before this type of property forfeiture is legitimate.

      1. “According to the documents that created the various levels of government, the government has to actually convict a person of a crime”

        Have you ever looked at Municipal codes? Or, the tax laws?

        Guilty until proven innocent.

        I have a “Notice of Violation” right here in front of me. If it wasn’t so damn serious, I’d laugh. But, I’ve dealt this these bureaucrats before. You can’t win. Even with an attorney.

        “Thou shall”
        “We may”
        “You will”

    2. Standard arguing. When you put forward a strong argument and attach to it a weaker argument your argument now is only as strong as the weakest part.

      Why are you wearing your coat?

      Because I’m cold.

      End of the discussion as being cold is 100% a reason for wearing a coat.

      If you say, ‘because I’m cold, and anyway it is green and that matches my sweater’, then your argument has been debased.

  14. “Carrying cash is not a crime,” says Insitute for Justice attorney Darpana Sheth.

    A few years ago I came back to Canada after a multi-year stay in Europe. I was carrying around $12,000 cash on me. So when I had to fill out the statement about carrying more than $10,000 cash (which the Canucks took over from the US, I guess), I did so. I was directed to ‘secondary’, where the nice RCMP dude took a look at the bundle, handed it back and said with an apologetic smile: “I don’t know why we have to go through this” or words to that effect. Well, I don’t know either, but were I to fail to comply with the reporting requirements and were I found with the cash on me, I’m sure he would have taken it from me — I would have committed an infraction by making a false statement on the questionnaire.

  15. “Police and prosecutors cannot treat citizens like ATMs.”

    Loretta Lynch begs to differ.

  16. was it really important to carry so much cash on hand while traveling?

    FYTW.
    It could not be more appropriate.

    1. Hey, whatever you want to do is fine by me. Just make sure to get suspicious if your traveling companion asks you if you know the effects of roofies.

    2. An old boss of mine at a fortune 200 was sent to survey the results of an attempted military coup in Kenya n 1982 on the company’s plants. There were still bodies in the street.

      His orders were to minimize any corporate exposures. He was to either get the plants back on line or, shut them down and get the hell out of the country, They handed him $10,000 U.S. cash currency so that he could bribe his way out if necessary.

      The government had imposed a death penalty on anyone caught carrying foreign currency like that. But, without the cash, he could have been easily stranded in a difficult situation.

      Sometimes, one needs to carry lots of cash.

  17. Unless you’re carrying clearly marked bank bags from a freshly robbed bank or a bag precisely matching that in which the ransom was dropped, there is no reason for the cops to confiscate it, even temporarily.

  18. , it is enough for them to show by a preponderance of the evidence?a much lower standard than the proof beyond a reasonable doubt required for a criminal conviction?

    Fun trivia: That’s the same standard the government uses to take your kids.

    May the odds be ever in our favor!

    1. Well, they do smell like marijuana and poop.

      SEIZE THEM.

  19. It appears from the story that is was the CVG airport cops, not the Orlando blues. I’m so proud.

    I’m flying out of CVG on Monday. Perhaps I’ll stop by the game store and pick up a couple of bundles of pretend money…

    Then I think, well, I’m traveling with my six year old girl. Perhaps it’s just easier to submit. Sigh

  20. CVG sucks. Why would you build in N KY when a greater portion of the populace lives in OH?

    1. Well, the local rumor is that a whole lot of suitcases full of cash changed hands when the Kentucky location of the Cincinnati airport was decided.

      On the upside(?) CVG is dying. Whole terminals have been abandoned. It quite eerie to see.

      CVG, located in what I will admit is generally “flyover country”, is also the most expensive airport in the county to book a departure from. I’m not at all kidding. It’s beyond bizarre.

      1. I guess after Delta acquired Northwest’s Detroit hub, Cincinnati makes less sense to keep.

      2. So, 80% of the seized cash goes to the airport cops who work for the airport agency that is desperate for money to prop up their failing airport enterprise? It is starting to look like drugs have less and less to do with anything here.

    2. I’m wondering why one would think a river necessarily denotes a difference between what is on either side of it.

      That area of N KY (Covington, Florence Y’all, etc) is part of the Greater Cincinnati area.

      1. I agree the NKY seems like it would essentially just be neighborhoods of Cincy, but the feel and attitude are distinctly different.

        Also it doesn’t help that getting from one to the other is a huge hassle since we would apparently rather shut bridges down rather than privatize them so they could be repaired. That would lead to tolls! Evil capitalists would bubble up from Hell itself to fleece the unwitting!

        1. Since when does a bridge have to be privatized to repair it?

      2. Agree that N KY communities are part of the greater Cincinnati area, but they do feel different than the OH suburbs. I hypothesizing that a greater % of the Cincy populace lives N of the river. Would make more sense to put it on the OH side. I would not be surprised in the slightest if payoffs occurred. I always hated flying in/out of CVG.

  21. While Clarke admits that he was a recreational pot smoker, he says he was never involved in the marijuana trade. “I’m not a drug dealer,” he told Vox’s German Lopez. “I never have been.”

    Being a drug dealer is not a bad thing. I wish people would stop saying “drug dealer” like it is. I mean, this guy smokes, so he had a dealer. Does he not appreciate the service provided?

    1. Selling pot is a more honest profession than drug warrior.

  22. Someone has to explain to this kid:

    “Kid, work hard, save your money, and everybody will be coming after you for a piece of it.”

  23. If you are carrying a credit card with am $11k credit limit they don’t march you to an ATM and withdraw against that, so why the fuck does it become okay to do it with cash?

    BURN IT ALL DOWN!!!

  24. A hunch, suspicion, or wishful thinking on the part of the cops does NOT rise to “a preponderance of evidence”. They have NO evidence other than the bare fact of the possession of the money.

    Further, what about this man’s right to a speedy trial, to freedom from seizure without a warrant showing probable cause, his right to challenge and questioin witnesses, and to present his own evidence at trial in a court of competent jurisdiction
    The article does not specify what KIND of cops these are. City cops? Why were they at the airport? Port cops? Do they have initial jurisdiction to investigate criminal activity? County? Again, why at the airport? If TSA, they have NO authority to search for or seize upon discovering anyone’s private propperty that is not designated as “dangrous”/ And cash can not be used to bring down an airplane or injure anyone. If federal cops, they were not actively persuing an open case, and cannot be used for local policing, thus in no way had original authority to seize.

    1. What is the stated probable cause that gave jurtification for the search that discovered the cash? “Smells like marijuana” means bring the drug dog over. IF the cop in question initiating the detainment has proper authority to initiate a contact for such things.

      In any case, this man has the right to a SPEEDY trial, and the money cannot be simply taken. It MUST be held in evidence until after a suitable court have convicted, and declared the forfeituure of the funds be part of his sentence. But to do that they will have to have far more than suspicion. It will have to be a series of specific observations that clearly point to criminal activity. And “I think yuo smell like marijuana” does not rise to that level. Nor does an accusation like “this money COULD have been involved in an illegal transaction…..”. COULD? You have to show enough evidence to weight that statement at least 51%. And at this point it looks like they MIGHT have ten percent.

      1. Wishful thinking Tionico. You haven’t been paying attention.

  25. Any candidate for president MUST have as part of his platform the end to this theft under colour of law. Since it is an unjust and unconstitutional law, any candidate can easily proise to refuse to enforce the civil forfeiture laws as now practiced. At least require all funds and propery seized must be inventoried and secured until AFTER a criminal trial in a court of competent jurisdiction has found the OWNER of the property or cash to be guilty of a crime that involves that specific property. IF the candidate, once elected, will be faithful to faithfully enforce ALL the laws enacted PERSUANT to the Constitution, none could allow the “civil asset forfeiture” system now in place to continue under HIS watch.

    1. Remember how laws work: It’s not unconstitutional until the SCOTUS says it is.

      How long does that take again?

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  27. Nothing new here – and it troubles “conservatives” no more than it troubles “liberals.”

  28. They shouldn’t call it the Equitable Sharing Program; rather, the Mafia Stealing Program. This is like being forced to pay money to “be free.” What kind of facist crap is this? Paying off the airport cops to be part of the legion of federal agents? Oh wait, I should be careful commenting on Reason. Here come the subpoenas for commenting against my government. Next up, we all get Lojacked!

  29. Nationwide, civil forfeitures are the new cash cows for pigs with guns and badges. Since it’s all done under civil laws, these jackbooted thugs don’t need to prove anything or even charge anyone with anything.

    America is now a full-blown police state.

    1. I’ve got nothing against dogs, but I’ve always thought “pigs” was a misnomer.

  30. Where are the millions of people who took an oath to uphold the constitution? Why aren’t they fulfilling their oath? Why are they allowing the pigs to to shred the constitution?

    I guess oaths are as easily disposable as toilet paper.

    IT’S ALL OVER FOLKS! And the socialist pigs have won.

  31. http://wh.gov/i8Bck Sign and share if you want to show your support for Charles Clarke’s rights and want to see him get his money back.

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