Civil Asset Forfeiture

Homeland Security Seized $2 Billion in Cash From Travelers at U.S. Airports

In two-thirds of those cases, there were no accompanying arrests.

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Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other Department of Homeland Security agents seized more than $2 billion in cash from travelers in U.S. airports between 2000 and 2016, according to a new report by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm.

The institute's report is the first to comprehensively analyze the use of civil asset forfeiture by federal law enforcement in airports, where multiple news investigations have revealed horror stories of passengers having their money taken even though they weren't ever charged with a crime.

Take a case that Reason covered: Rustem Kazazi, a U.S. citizen who tried in 2018 to get on a plane to return to his native Albania from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Kazazi had roughly $58,000 in cash in his luggage, money he said he was taking to repair a house he owned and possibly to buy another. Kazazi was strip-searched by CBP agents, who also seized his life savings. The agency claimed the cash was "involved in a smuggling/drug trafficking/money laundering operation," despite there being no proof of that.

CBP failed to file a claim against Kazazi's money within the 90-day deadline, and then failed to return his money after the deadline passed. Last year, the U.S. government agreed to return nearly all of the cash, although Kazazi says it seized $770 more than it admitted.

Then there's the case of Anthonia Nwaorie, a Houston woman who had $41,000 in cash seized by CBP at an airport in 2018. The money was earmarked for a children's hospital in Nigeria. Kazazi and and Nwaorie's cases are just two of 30,000 cash seizures at airports across the country, according to the report.

"The most common reason for airport currency seizures is a failure to report traveling internationally with $10,000 or more in cash or other currency, as required by federal law," Institute for Justice senior research analyst Jennifer McDonald said in a press release. "Such paperwork violations account for half of all currency seizures and over a quarter of the total value seized—more than half a billion dollars—most without a demonstrated connection to serious criminal activity."

Reporting violations accounted for half of all airport currency seizures and 28 percent of the total value seized. The report also found that there were no arrests made in more than two-thirds of all the cases. Airport seizures also trended upward during the years studied.

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never charged with a crime. That includes cash, cars, and even houses.

Law enforcement groups say civil asset forfeiture is a vital tool to disrupt drug trafficking and other organized crime by targeting ill-gotten gains. But civil liberties groups across the political spectrum say civil asset forfeiture is unfairly tilted against defendants, who bear the burden of challenging seizures in court and proving their innocence. It also creates a perverse profit incentive, because asset forfeiture revenues often pad the budgets of police departments and prosecutors' offices.

CBP isn't the only agency seizing cash at airports. Earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) returned more than $82,000 that it seized from an elderly Pittsburgh man and his daughter after a federal class-action lawsuit was filed on their behalf by the Institute for Justice.

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.

A 2017 report by the Justice Department Office of 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 majority of seizures occurred in airports, train stations, and bus terminals

The Institute for Justice sued CBP in 2016 to obtain the records after the agency rejected the institute's Freedom of Information Act request for its Seized Asset and Case Tracking System database. CBP claimed first that the request was "over-broad" and then that the entire database was categorically exempt from public records requests because it contains law enforcement techniques and procedures. It took four years to obtain most of the data.

"The most common reason for currency seizures is a failure to comply with reporting requirements, which is a violation of federal law," a CBP spokesperson told The Washington Post. "However, currency seized by CBP at ports of entry has also been connected with bulk cash smuggling, counterfeiting, narcotics trafficking, and other criminal offenses. An individual may petition for the return of seized currency, but the petitioner must prove that the source and intended use of the currency was legitimate."

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  1. WTF ever happened to the presumption of innocence? Time to shut down the whole TSA, CBP and DEA while we’re at it.

    1. As someone mentioned in the aftermath of 9/11, the terrorists won.

      1. Uh, that might have been me.

        1. It is absolutely shameful that asset forfeiture is permitted when someone hasn’t even been accused of a crime, let alone convicted. Good thing the r team and the d team are doing absolutely nothing about it. How’s the lesser of two evils going?

          1. Evil.

            But thanks for asking…

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    2. Nah, the solution is to stop treating cash transactions as a crime.

      1. You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Your problem is that you think the end goal should be justice. The people who make the rules think the end goal should be bigger cash bonuses. The people who make the rules always win.

    3. Law enforcement is presumed innocent until proven innocent. Everyone else is guilty until being bullied into taking a plea.

    4. And Title IX?

    5. Civil asset forfeiture proceedings are filed against the asset itself.

      You may have rights, but your cash doesn’t.

      1. Which still doesn’t pass 5th/14th amendment logic. Regardless of whether or not your property is charged, you are still deprived of it without due process. The mental gymnastics would be hilarious if it weren’t so tyrannical.

      2. Are you Matthew “Bootlicker” Slyfield? You look like him…

      3. and yet the cash is MINE.. and that Fourth Article of Ammendment guarantees me the RIGHT, given by God to me as a part of my birthright, that I WILL BE secure in my person, houses, papers, and effects.

        Cash is part of by “effects” WHY are these goons allowed to violate MY RIGHTS to my security in my effects, even wiile travelling?
        SO there is a techincal paperwork “requriement” when transporting an arbitrrily determined maximum amount? Suppose I ah found transportoing that cash for the Nigerinan hosital.. WHY can;t they simply require em to make the stinking report then and there? Had I filed that before I legt for the airport, no harm no foul, right? Well, its not like requireing me to retract a bullet once it is fired. Let me take care of the stupid paperwork, alright? By bad. But HOW does “my bad’ reesult in YUR MONEY HAH HAH HAH NEENER NEENER CAN”T MAKE ME GIVE It BAAAAAACKKK

        Morons. CAF needs to be completely abolished as the crime it is.
        Let the ever-prying ever-surveiling ever-vigilant FedGov figure out I am actually trying to launder” the cash then find and bust me whether I’m on the plane or not. But THEY need to prove beyond a reasonblae doubt that I was indeed involved in illegal money processing. THEN take the cash as evidence, hold it until AFTER the conviction, then it could be theirs. AFTER the guilty verdict.
        I’ve also heard of huge sums of cash being stolen by Gummit Goons wen driving on the highway and being stopped ona false pretence, and “innocently” demading to search the car “because drugs, you know”. Since when is DOMESTIC travel with cash a crime? Or pria facie evidence of one? Even if that, seize the cash, charge me with the suspected crim,e, old the cash as evidence until AFTER my conviction. If no conviction, reutrn it WITH INTEREST.

        1. And to think our forefathers thought the nasty habit/practice of King George’s minions knocking up my door and demanding to search my storeroom for “military stores” whcih could include things like barrels of flour or grain, dinner plates, sides of bacon, casks of rum or brandy, blankets.. and seizing them as “contraband” on a whim. We went to war over this and a handful of other similar violations of natural rights. And won. Or did we?

          1. Some freedom loving folks were tricked into rebelling by their Oligarchic masters. Everything after has been Kabuki

    6. That was NEVER real. Like many American slogans, it was just a slogan to make you feel good while they fucked citizens over.

    7. You mean “strike at the branches of the evil tree”? You mean join the thousands who are doing so? No! I “strike at the root of the evil”, i.e., the political paradigm of monopoly on violence at the whim of an elite, without accountability.

  2. No charges? What about no conviction?

    “Under civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement can seize property suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never charged with a crime. ”

    Under civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement can punt the entire constitution just for the hell of it.

    1. Sure, but if there aren’t even any charges, there certainly won’t be a conviction.

      1. “We stole your life savings but we didn’t cage you so you can go out and earn some more for us. By the way, you forgot to thank us for not convicting you.”

  3. Need to start treating these thieves like thieves.

      1. Good news: We get to hang them in the spring of 25′.
        Bad news: They will still be alive.

        1. *weeps in Cash and Haggard*

          1. Waylen or Willie maybe but not Haggard.

            1. all my rowdy friends …

    1. They’ve always been crooks.

  4. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other Department of Homeland Security agents seized more than $2 billion in cash from travelers in U.S. airports between 2000 and 2016

    That’s really not that much on an annual basis and when you consider the size of the deficit they’re going to have to get a lot more creative in coming up with ways to steal your money if they hope to ever put a dent in that thing. I’d suggest “structuring”, claim that anybody with any money at all is trying to evade the $10,000 limit by carrying less than $10,000 and take all the money from all the people. Obviously, the people who aren’t carrying any money at all are just trying to avoid having their money seized and should have their debit cards and credit cards seized until they come up with some money that can be seized, those filthy, rotten crooks.

    1. And it should go without saying that people who aren’t flying are the filthiest, rottenest crooks of all and should have all their money seized for the crime of refusing to fly for fear of having all their money seized.

    2. TSA boss:”jerryskids has an interesting idea here Chad, get right on it.”

    3. Government could raise taxes to 100% and they still couldn’t get rid of the deficit.

      1. Sad but true.

        Sadder still is that most people don’t even understand the simple fact that we have a deficit larger than a couple of year’s GDP.

        No bank would ever make that only. The only way you’d get that much out of a bank is at the point of a gun. Which, not incidentally, is the way that the Feds get it out of the people.

        1. where is the edit function?

          “only” was supposed to be “loan”

        2. That’s not true. Imagine a world where banks would take on that kind of debt if they had a promise from a central bank to refund all their losses, no matter how reckless, by running the printing press. Now imagine this central bank not only does that for every major bank (constituting the vast majority of all financial assets nationally) but for the federal government no matter how irresponsible they are. Now imagine that this is already how it works.

        3. Um…the deficit is like 5% of gdp. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of the debt? And even that is only 150% of gdp

    4. You are not thinking big enough. Most people don’t carry enough cash to make stealing it pay. But many people can be held for ransom with much bigger amounts available. TSA is just one step away from “held for further investigation” and two steps from special rendition.

    5. the folks who are not found carrying any cash at all really ARE carrying, its just that we’ve not yet located it. So we MUST keep searching until we find it. Or charge them with destruction of evndeice because they HAD to have ditched it just before we found them. NO ONE is really totally inocent. Who was it infamously said “show me the man and I’ll show you the crime”? Was that J. Edgar His Sorry Self?

  5. “Last year, the U.S. government agreed to return nearly all of the cash, although Kazazi says it seized $770 more than it admitted.”

    I’d wager the CBP seized exactly what it claimed, and the other $770 was pocketed by an agent without anyone noticing

    1. I’d like to think the agent used it to tip the next buxom lass that he fondled.

  6. if $2 billion is on the books how many billion$ are not?

      1. I’m not clicking that.

          1. I did. He’s as sick as we thought. Are those Feds swarming my building????

        1. Suit yourself. It’s a great movie though.

          1. don’t take it personally.

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  7. As soon as we elect a Democrat, this will get taken care of. I mean, sorry, as soon as we elect a Republican, this will get taken care of.

      1. .00000000000012/10

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  9. Civil asset forfeiture is just straight-up theft. It has to end.
    Both Team Red and Team Blue have been complicit in this atrocity.
    This is the type of issue that could be a winning issue for a third party, one in which there truly is not much of a difference between Team Red and Team Blue (and they’re both awful on it). This and electoral reform and ending the drug war and a few others. Just push those few issues over and over and over again.

    1. Yeah, but how is cutting back on asset forfeiture and the drug war going to help the government stick it to icky people I don’t like? Also, if they didn’t get their money from stealing confiscating anything filthy drug money then that means my taxes will have to go up to pay for them! I’d much rather hardened criminal scum pay for things I want than pay for it myself!

    2. Weird all the things you don’t hear the “protesters” clamoring for…

  10. Good buy some rifles and ammo and mow down antifa. Make it count.

  11. Yup. Civil Asset Forfeiture is trash. But hey, I’ll bet the amount seized by DHS and TSA will be at a record low this year!

    1. Silver linings.

  12. $2 billion sounds like a lot of money. But it’s nothing compared to the $8.42 billion that Reason.com’s benefactor Charles Koch has lost this year thanks to Orange Hitler’s draconian war on immigration.

    #HowLongMustCharlesKochSuffer?
    #50BillionIsntEnough

    1. .00000000000000041/10

    2. Interesting to learn that Koch has a vested interest in illegal immigration.

  13. Government should not have the ability to seize money or property without a conviction. If money or property is seized and the person is either not charged or found guilty then the specific government agency should be made to return the money and property and be penalized the interest and/or lost income directly out of their government agency budget.

    1. Penalization doesn’t work on agencies or institutions. Actual people need to be penalized for this to work.

      1. And so qualified immunity raises its ugly head.

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  18. Ask people to wear a mask and they protest. This, and about a hundred other more worthy things get little to no attention.

  19. Absolutely unacceptable, and contrary to our Constitution and to due process of law.

  20. Should law enforcement be trusted when it steals $billions from thousands of innocent people?
    LEOs net loot exceeds private criminals.
    After this, have they no decency at all? Have they no shame?
    Who will protect us from our pseudo protectors?
    Still frightened of self-governance? Anarchists want no rulers. Which is more chaotic, legal theft, or private sector thieves? If I get “protected” much more, I’m going to be broke.

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  23. That money was seized to protect the children. Because that’s what America does, it protects the children.

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