Asset Forfeiture

Family Sues DEA and TSA After Elderly Man's Life Savings Were Seized at Airport

A class-action lawsuit is now challenging the DEA's habit of seizing large amounts of cash from travelers without evidence of any crime.

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Terrence Rolin kept his life savings in a Tupperware container, but all that money now belongs to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), even though the 79-year-old retired railroad engineer hasn't been charged with a crime.

When Rolin's daughter, Rebecca Brown, tried to take her fathers' savings—$82,373 in cash—on an airplane, a DEA agent seized it simply because large amounts of cash are considered suspicious by the agency.

Brown and Rolin are now the lead plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm, challenging the DEA and TSA's practice of seizing large amounts of cash from airline passengers without any evidence of any underlying crime.

"Flying with any amount of cash is completely legal, but once again we see government agents treating American citizens like criminals," Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban said in a press release. "You don't forfeit your constitutional rights when you try to board an airplane. It is time for TSA and federal law enforcement to stop seizing cash from travelers simply because the government considers certain amounts of cash 'suspicious.'"

Rolin and Brown's trouble started last August. Rolin had asked his daughter to take his money and open a joint savings account, the Washington Post reports:

Rebecca Brown was catching a flight home from the Pittsburgh airport early the next day and said she didn't have time to stop at a bank. She confirmed on a government website that it's legal to carry any amount of cash on a domestic flight and tucked the money in her carry-on.

But just minutes before departure in late August, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent met her at the busy gate and questioned her about the cash, which showed up on a security scan. He insisted Brown put Rolin on the phone to confirm her story. Brown said Rolin, who is suffering mental decline, was unable to verify some details.

"He just handed me the phone and said, 'Your stories don't match,'" Brown recalled the agent saying. "'We're seizing the cash.'"

The DEA then notified Brown that it was seeking to permanently forfeit Rolin's life savings. Neither Rolin or Brown have been charged with a crime.

In the meantime, the lawsuit says the loss of Rolin's savings has left him unable to fix his truck, which is his primary means of transportation, or get needed dental work.

"My father and his parents worked hard for this money, and the government shouldn't be able to reach into his pocket and take it," Brown said a press release. "We did nothing wrong and haven't been charged with any crime, yet the DEA is trying to take my father's life savings. His savings should be returned right away, and the government should stop taking money from Americans who are doing something completely legal."

In cases like Brown's, the DEA seizes cash using civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police to seize cash and property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is not charged with a crime.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement seize millions of dollars in cash every year in drug interdiction operations, much of being transported along highways and through airports. In 2016, a USA Today investigation found the DEA seized more than $209 million from at least 5,200 travelers in 15 major airports over the previous decade.

Police groups say civil forfeiture is a vital tool that allows them to disrupt drug trafficking by targeting its illicit proceeds.

However, civil liberties groups say there are few safeguards to protect innocent owners, who bear the burden of challenging the seizure to get their property back.

The Institute for Justice lawsuit claims the DEA has a practice or policy of seizing currency from travelers at U.S. airports without probable cause simply if the dollar amount is greater than $5,000. This practice, the suit argues, violates travelers' Fourth Amendment rights.

In 2016, Reason profiled the case of Charles Clarke, a college student who was robbed of $11,000 dollars at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport by a local police officer who was deputized by the DEA. The officer claimed Clarke's suitcase smelled like marijuana, although no drugs were found in it. Clarke, helped by the Institute for Justice, got his money back in an agreement with the Justice Department.

A 2017 report by the Justice Department Inspector General found that the DEA seized more than $4 billion in cash from people suspected of drug activity over the previous decade, but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

The report reviewed 100 cash seizures and found that only 44 of those were connected to or advanced a criminal investigation. The majority of seizures occurred in airports, train stations, and bus terminals, where the DEA regularly snoops on travel records and maintains a network of travel industry employees who act as confidential informants.

A 2016 Justice Department Inspector General report chastised the DEA for recruiting a TSA screener as an informant and promising the screener a cut of the proceeds from forfeited cash that he discovered.

A DEA spokesperson, per the agency's policy, declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

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89 responses to “Family Sues DEA and TSA After Elderly Man's Life Savings Were Seized at Airport

  1. However, civil liberties groups say there are few safeguards to protect innocent owners, who bear the burden of challenging the seizure to get their property back.

    The appropriate safeguard being a blanket prohibition on seizure of property without a criminal conviction.

    1. We already have that, it’s right there in the Bill of Rights.

      What we need are woodchippers.

      1. Why would you do such a horrible, terrible, no good thing to poor innocent….woodchippers?

    2. And the appropriate safeguard should be the 4th and 5th Amendments.

    3. “The appropriate safeguard being a blanket prohibition on seizure of property without a criminal conviction.”
      Unfortunately, what we have is the exact opposite…and it is laughably called “due process”.

      1. The order is out. “Do process.” Done. It is not your money.

  2. Remember the New Jersey civil forfeiture “reform” covered by Reason recently? It let cops steal money so long as it was over $1,000 (and property so long as its value – impartially determined I’m sure – was over $10,000).

    So if this had been NJ cops they’d also have been able to do what the DEA did. It was over a thousand, after all.

    1. You’d think common sense reform would be to put a maximum, not a minimum on what could be seized, huh?

  3. Terrence Rolin kept his life savings in a Tupperware container, but all that money now belongs to the Drug Enforcement Administration

    Not true. It is still his money; that it was stolen does not change title.
    Maybe some real journalists will actually ask candidates for a certain high office what their plans are for ending this unconstitutional practice.
    And maybe there will be bipartizen support for debt reduction.

    1. Financed by a luxury tax on rainbow-flavored unicorns?

      1. Huh. Maybe the cash seizures are the debt reduction plan.

        1. That’s how all empires who’ve stopped expanding and turned to civil conflict do it

    2. Not true. It is still his money; that it was stolen does not change title.

      If it was successfully stolen, it kind of does. What is “title” other than what a court says it is? The law is an ass.

    3. Sadly the purpose of our government has devolved into a two pronged fork:
      (A) Regulate our behavior and (B) Take our money. Try to think of any major decision you make that government doesn’t somehow enter into it. The Democrat Party IS the third world – Socialists turning us into subjects. All that remains to be done is to disarm the people.

  4. Christ, what a bunch of assholes.

    1. Socialism, true, but if you track the specifics decade after decade, what you find is Republican National Socialists robbing money for Positive Christianity’ war on enjoyment. Yes the prohibition party and dixiecrats are abettors and robbers as well, but when banks and brokerages topple in a liquidity crunch because money fled looters, faith-based republican fanatics are invariably the wrecking ball making the economy look like the World Trade Center. Republicans and market Crashes are causality, not coincidence.

      1. Good grief, even more of that ignorant drivel from you. Give it up.

  5. “…Brown and Rolin are now the lead plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Institute for Justice…”

    If you’re on their mailing list, you’d also have found out today they are to argue in the SCOTUS in the hopes of reducing government agents’ immunity to damages.
    GO IJ! GO IJ! GO IJ!

    1. Indeed. A more useful way of promoting liberty than commenting on this board is giving money to the Institute for Justice, “the libertarian ACLU”. I shortly shall send my annual contribution. https://ij.org/

  6. Has the Barr-Trump Justice Department found an issue that could bother clingers about its performance?

    1. No joke civil asset forfiture should be applied to all clingers and trump voters. We both know that we are the only two people that can determine the correct usage for their money. At least we know we wouldn’t spend it on places and organizations or business that aren’t sufficiently woke.

      1. LOL….by all means, please keep stalking your alter ego Kirkland. It is hilarious parody, and exposes him for what he is.

    2. Did obo’s DoJ do anything that bothers asshole bigots?

      1. What does that have to do with this?

        1. “What does that have to do with this?”

          Where are you? Perhaps I can recommend a remedial reading course near you.

    3. Do you post here to allay your fears of dying alone?

      1. I’m sure somebody here would be happy to sit beside him and hold him while he dies. What I’m not sure of is whether or not they’d want to hold his hand or his throat.

  7. Neither agency should exist.

    1. Yup. Totally unconstitutional, along with the departments of education, energy, HUD, transportation, etc, ad naseum. I’d guess roughly 90 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is illegal.

      1. For a fun exercise, lay out a list of cabinet level organizations, and the constitutions list of government powers.
        To balance the budget in one year, and eliminate the debt in three years, end the ones not in the constitution.

        1. What a wonderful dream.

          Then I wake up to this hellhole of a world we’ve created.

          Damn the fools, the cowards and the lazy who just let this go on.

    2. This ^!

    3. “Neither agency should exist.”
      But they do and it is a pipe dream to expect that to change.

  8. Terrence Rolin kept his life savings in a Tupperware container

    *facepalm*

    Thank god he was able to identify the thieves. Imagine had it just been snagged by a baggage handler.

    1. Well, he kept it in his house, it was his daughter who took the container to the airport.

  9. …but $3.2 billion of those seizures were never connected to any criminal charges.

    It’s almost as though there are incentives for this.

    1. +1000

    2. Hey, at least we don’t have a bunch of Highwaymen robbing you whenever you try to travel

    3. I just bought airline tickets. Nowhere did I see any mention of men with guns eager to leap on me and rob me of money. Yet as I type there is a video squawking about a guns at an airport. Those airline no-no charts showing blowtorches, grenades, dynamite, lighters, etc… as DO NOTS do not show cash. The first mention a passenger sees is the tiny print on customs forms. Does it look like airlines are passively-yer-deliberately helping to lead their unsuspecting clients into a mugging?

      1. on CUSTOMS forms.. for some reason on one has adequately explained, it is illegel to travel internatioinally with large sums (>$10K) of cash. But SHE was travelling within tne lower 48, so that law does not reach her. But the TSA goons certainly did.

  10. A 2016 Justice Department Inspector General report chastised the DEA for recruiting a TSA screener as an informant and promising the screener a cut of the proceeds from forfeited cash that he discovered.

    Did they chastise the DEA with the sternly-worded letter or the comfy chair? At some point the woodchippers will no longer be a joke, at some point this stuff goes beyond disgusting to intolerable and when enough people decide the government is more to be feared than the criminals, bad things are going to happen. It only takes a spark, one “shot heard ’round the world”, and I know I’m not the only one watching what’s going on in Virginia.

    1. #metooo

    2. No Shit Mr. Skids. Killer cops in Houston. Qualified Immunity rulings run amok…. its just a matter of time

  11. Fuck the TSA. Fuck the DEA. Hell, fuck the whole DOJ.

    Getting closer and closer to the time we draw some boundaries on the map, and invite people to choose. The question is: how many new nations do we need?

    1. I recommend the nation of Pacifica, made of California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon. Offer all registered democrats in New York and New Jersey one way tickets.

      1. I recommend sending them all to Antarctica in cargo shipping containers. What should they get even a square inch of American soil? And why would we want a hostile communist nation bordering America?

        Also, I live on WA. I would sooner drive them all into the ocean before giving up my property for them to have some faggot Marxist state.

      2. Until we get beyond the insanity of “left vs. right,” and instead focus only on right vs. wrong, the rulers of this world will keep us enslaved.

        Both “Democrats” and “Republicans” support this type of BS, usually rabidly.

    2. I’d like to see a Federation of thousands of counties…where most of the power of the People should reside. A place for everyone to call home and live among those who think and act like they themselves do.

  12. Time for another donation to IJ.

    1. This, God bless them. They are just outstanding and keep getting better and better.

  13. Sadly this elderly man was left to his own devices by clingers like you. Your betters knew what to do in this situation and acted accordingly.

  14. How this passes Constitutional muster is beyond me or maybe it has never been adequately tried. How these gov drones can look at themselves in the mirror everyday knowing they deprived an elderly man of his life-savings is unfathomable. They are true sociopaths.

    1. It has only been accepted by the supremes when done AFTER a criminal conviction. To me, at that point it is not a forfeiture, but a fine, and should go into the treasury, not the pockets of the cops.

    2. We are ruled by a priesthood of Bar members who clothe themselves in black dresses, pretending they have “authority” to decree the Bill of Rights or the Constitution in general does NOT actually mean what it says, and says only what it means. Any sane, reasonably intelligent person KNOWS this is not constitutional, but we have TOLERATED the black dress priesthood far too long.

  15. From the President on down, corruption and disregard for rights seems to have taken over this country. Any good people in government seem to have been driven out. Attempts to investigate are thwarted by executive privilege, etc.

    1. Hahha. Lefties are leaving in droves.

      The remaining Lefties are just trying to steal an old mans money before they retire and steal his money via taxes and legal fees.

  16. I would post the 5th Amendment but we all know this is horseshit stealing by the government at this point.

  17. I guess we need a constitutional amendment to say the constitution does actually apply in airports?

    1. The Second Amendment was created as the means to enforce the rest of the Constitution. Americans are simply too cowardly and lazy to use what the Founders prescribed.

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  20. Having government issued currency makes you a criminal suspect. Would they prefer we all use bitcoin?

    1. No, they’d prefer we use dollars, but in traceable, electronic transactions.

      1. Each one with a “transaction fee” tribute to the moneychangers.

      2. “No, they’d prefer we use dollars, but in traceable, electronic transactions.”
        BINGO
        Give that man a cigar.

  21. This is simple “redistribution” of wealth.

    Wapo did this story and the commenters could not believe the government would do exactly as they have been asking the government to do in the first place.

  22. I don’t understand. If the DEA takes the money I’m sure they investigate whether or not they’re really criminals, no? Or am I being naive? And when they’re found to be innocent don’t they return the money? Or is it really a ‘judge and jury’ type of thing?

    If so a) that’s stealing. Which makes the DEA thieves. Full stop. I don’t care how your dress it up. And the politicians that allowed for this travesty and trampling of basic civil liberties should be shamed and ashamed. I would think this is having a corrosive impact on the civil order and b) here’s where I’m actually glad Canada has an edge on America. We don’t have the ATF or DEA. So this crazy shit of no-knock raids and attacking citizens sometimes resulting in deaths because of the war on drugs is non-existent. The killing of innocents over the depraves war on drug is not only inexcusable anymore, it’s downright uncivil and immoral.

    But we do have an increasingly aggressive RCMP police force who don’t shy away from roughing up the press.

    1. ATF and DEA became independent agencies in the early 1970s. Nixon as President and Democrats firmly in control of Congress. The worst of both worlds. Nixon wanted more law and order and the Democrats wanted more bureaucracy. Of course, we’re the country that had Prohibition, another fine (sarc) idea that pitted the government against the citizenry they were supposed to represent. So now we have drug laws and agencies. Some things don’t really change.

      1. Yeh, not a good mix.

        That’s another thing Canada seems to differ from the U.S. on: Temperament towards drugs and alcohol. We’re not free liberals on it by any stretch of the imagination but no war on alcohol, drugs or poverty or any of that shit. It pays to be a smallish country I guess.

        Here in Montreal, I can give my 14 year-old daughter a sip of my wine at a restaurant and no one bats an eye.

        It definitely has less of puritan streak is what I’m saying.

        1. And I visit the USA, like, a lot. So I speak with some experience. 25 states so far and we always visit in New England/NY going back to the 80s.

    2. Or am I being naive?

      Yes. The agencies are under no legal obligation to conduct any investigation.

  23. Land of the Free…

    My ass.

  24. Once again we all wonder why we don’t care when law-enforcement gets shot. Just because you have a badge and a special uniform does not negate the fact that when you commit a felony, like robbery, you deserve to be shot. Start shooting these people in the head.

  25. Both the ATF and the DEA should have been shut down (100% liquidated) decades ago. They’re nothing but a bunch of government-backed criminals who seemingly answer to no government authority.

    The President & Congress need to shutter these corrupt criminal organizations immediately.

    1. I bet you if someone would hook up a hidden camera at their work we’d see a lot of interesting talk and behaviour.

  26. What happened to Americans?

    The Founders never let tyranny get to this level of criminality. They began shooting dead the agents of the government long before what Americans tolerate now.

    I’d love to be optimistic, but history shows the perverts in black dresses called “judges” (who work for the State) almost always find in favor of costume-wearing thugs (who work for the very same State). For you and me that’s called conflict of interest; with them, they call it “due process.”

    We’re not going to “vote” our way out of this, and we’re not going to “pray for relief” to the demonic priesthood of the Bar and receive justice. We’re on our own.

  27. “Police groups say civil forfeiture is a vital tool that allows them to disrupt drug trafficking by targeting its illicit proceeds.”

    It would only be a vital tool if the end – disrupting drug trafficking – were also vital, for which there is precious little evidence. The Drug War has been going on since the 1920’s (if you count Prohibition, which I do) and has made damn little measurable progress. It has cost vast amounts of money, a huge investments of time and energy that could have been dedicated to something more worthwhile. It has also deeply eroded the civil rights of the citizenry. It is past time we stopped it.

  28. *father’s savings, not fathers’ savings

    1. The writers are called ‘editors’, more’s the shame.

  29. Having the government commit armed robbery of our savings is simply the price we pay for living in a free society, right?

    Right?

    Hello?

  30. “Rolin and Brown’s trouble started last August”

    Jesus Christ, Terrance, how much fucking time do you need to prove your innocence?

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  34. How about we start naming these agents and cops who hide behind cowardly acts of civil asset forfeiture? It’s time the public knows the names playing this legal thievery game.

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  36. Having that DEA Agents’ name would be helpful. Let his kids and neighbors know what a pos he is.

  37. It would only be a vital tool if the end – disrupting drug trafficking – were also vital, for which there is precious little evidence. The Drug War has been going on since the 1920’s (if you count Prohibition, which I do) and has made damn little measurable progress. It has cost vast amounts of money, a huge investments of time and energy that could have been dedicated to something more worthwhile. It has also deeply eroded the civil rights of the citizenry. It is past time we stopped it.
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