Civil Asset Forfeiture

After the DEA Robbed Her of $43,000 at an Airport, She Joined a Class Action Challenging the Agency's Cash Grabs

The lawsuit argues that the DEA is violating the Fourth Amendment by seizing money from travelers without evidence of criminal activity.

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After flying from Tampa to North Carolina for a casino reopening last May, Stacy Jones and her husband had dinner with friends, who were interested in buying a car the couple owned. They paid for it in cash. When the couple had to cut their trip short because of a death in the family, Jones put that money, along with cash she had for gambling, in a carry-on bag and headed for the airport in Wilmington, never considering the possibility that she was about to be robbed of $43,000 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

A local sheriff's deputy, alerted to the presence of seizable cash by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners, grilled Jones and her husband about the money and deemed their explanation fishy, even after he called their friend, who confirmed the car purchase but was unable to say exactly how many miles were on the odometer. The deputy called in two DEA agents, who interrogated the couple some more and then announced that they were seizing the money based on their suspicion that it was related to drug trafficking.

Jones is the latest named plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit that the Institute for Justice filed in January, arguing that the DEA's practice of seizing money from travelers without any evidence of criminal activity violates the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that the TSA's participation in this racket is unconstitutional and exceeds the agency's statutory authority.

"I've traveled with cash in the past," Jones told WFLA, the NBC station in Tampa. "We are recreational gamblers, so it's just something that we've done and never thought twice about."

There is nothing illegal about traveling with large amounts of cash. But given the legalized larceny authorized by civil asset forfeiture laws, Jones was always taking a risk by thinking she could safely travel with her own money, unmolested by avaricious drug warriors.

"Civil forfeiture allows the government to seize and permanently keep your property, even if you've never been charged with a crime," Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban explained to WFLA. "DEA has a policy of seizing large amounts of cash at airports, regardless if it has any proof the money is connected to drug trafficking. And unfortunately, that sweeps up a whole bunch of innocent people who have perfectly legitimate reasons for traveling with cash."

According to the Institute for Justice lawsuit, the DEA seized more than $2 billion in cash from 2009 through 2013. During that period, it was responsible for more than 4,000 cash seizures at airports and other transportation facilities, which netted a total of $163 million.

The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Terrence Rolin, a 79-year-old retired railroad engineer, who lost his life savings—$82,373—to a DEA seizure after his daughter, Rebecca Brown, whom he had charged with depositing the money in a joint bank account, took it with her while flying from Pittsburgh, where she was visiting him, to her home in Massachusetts. Two months later, after the case attracted national publicity, the DEA agreed to return the money.

Rolin and Brown are still participating in the lawsuit. In the amended complaint, they say their fear of DEA seizures has prevented them from handling money the way they would otherwise prefer.

"Terry's and Rebecca's case made headlines across the country and even overseas, but that still didn't stop the TSA and DEA from doing the same thing to Stacy," notes Institute for Justice attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili. "The government shouldn't be able to take someone's savings unless they are convicted of a crime. But because federal law enforcement gets to spend the money it keeps through civil forfeiture, agencies like the DEA are incentivized to take cash without justification."

Jones thinks Americans traveling in the United States should not have to live in fear of money-grabbing law enforcement officials, as if they were visiting a Third World country where corruption is endemic and cops routinely act like robbers. "I worked hard for this money and was intending to use it for a down payment on a house," she says. "It's wrong that the government treats people like criminals even though they are doing something perfectly legal. It needs to stop."

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    1. People and govenment

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  2. Surely this is an “excessive” fine, given that no crime was committed?

    1. The government’s rationale: Civil asset forfeiture isn’t a fine.

      1. That’s their public rationale.
        Their real rationale is: ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US

    2. It can’t be a fine since no person was ever charged, much less convicted. Civil asset forfeiture works on the legal fiction that the property committed the crime independent of any owner.

      CAF makes some small sense when, for example, a smuggler abandons his contraband before being caught. Police have the heroin in hand but there’s no owner present and no one is going to be stupid enough to step forward and claim it later. They need some legal basis to take custody and destroy the contraband. But that logic has no applicability whatsoever when the owner is known or when the property is inherently legal.

      CAF needs to be returned to its original roots – allowed only for unclaimed and self-evidently illegal property. This “connected to” a crime garbage has to go.

      1. Anyone out of their minds about Citizens United and doesn’t even care about this sort of civil asset piracy really ought to stick something in the garbage disposal that hurts.

  3. This wouldn’t happen if you never left your house and kept all your money in your mattress.

    1. Never mind, it probably would still happen.

      1. Reason reported on it a few years ago. A guy in Coppell Texas who didn’t trust banks had his life savings in cash stolen from his home by police.

    2. As long as there is no inheritance tax

      1. Or wealth tax. California wants to steal everyone’s money. Not sure how that makes it okay.

        1. They want to rewind and tax you for years after you leave Hostel Kalifornia.

  4. The fact that this even has to be argued is just astonishing.

    How far we have fallen.

    1. If a Constitutional Amendent isn’t stopping this, then the government is completely rogue. There is no point in discussion, that’s just insult heaped onto injury.

      1. The Bill of Rights Dude! Number four on the goddamn charts with a fucking bullet…

  5. I’ve never seen Trump endorse this practice, so I must conclude that it’s Obama’s fault.

    1. Actually it has been around for a long time. It got ramped up after the Clinton Administration gave out all of those grants for municipalities to hire extra police officers in the mid 90’s. When Gore lost the election, CAF gathered steam to replace the lost funding.

      1. I think he’s being wryly sarcastic. If you can imagine that.

          1. I don’t see how his being Irish is related.

  6. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Terrence Rolin, a 79-year-old retired railroad engineer, who lost his life savings—$82,373—to a DEA seizure after his daughter, Rebecca Brown, whom he had charged with depositing the money in a joint bank account, took it with her while flying from Pittsburgh, where she was visiting him, to her home in Massachusetts.

    Leaving aside the obvious immoral behavior of the government agencies… why, Rebecca Brown… why would you do this? Given the outcome of the story, be thankful it was stolen by an agency that gave you a receipt… imagine your recourse had you been clocked over the head by a local footpad while carrying your father’s life savings?

    1. I reckon she knows now.

    2. Yeah. Seems reckless. Should have brought to bank, convert to bank check, then cash out after traveling.

  7. It’s also wrong to take money from people who are merely buying and selling unapproved produce.

  8. “…grilled Jones and her husband about the money and deemed their explanation fishy, even after he called their friend, who confirmed the car purchase but was unable to say exactly how many miles were on the odometer.”

    Jones and her husband were obvious dumbfucks who failed to get the “NEVER talk to cops” memo or thought they were special and would never be deemed “fishy” by their betters.

    1. Stop blaming the victim. Perhaps they were naive, but that’s not very fair to them. Why would anyone (who isn’t paying attention to stories like this) think that travelling with your own money would be a problem? Doesn’t seem like not talking to the cops would have helped in this case (if it was even an option).

      1. It would make no difference in the banana republic that is now the USA.

    2. >Jones and her husband were obvious dumbfucks who failed to get the “NEVER talk to cops” memo or thought they were special and would never be deemed “fishy” by their betters.

      If you think you’re smart enough to never be victimized by the world’s most dangerous gang, then you’re a dumbfuck too!

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  10. Jones thinks Americans traveling in the United States should not have to live in fear of money-grabbing law enforcement officials, as if they were visiting a Third World country where corruption is endemic and cops routinely act like robbers.

    “As if they were visiting a Third World country….” Hahahahahahahaha! Oh, my, that’s just so precious! Bless your heart!*You really should get out more.

    *For those who don’t speak Southern, “bless your heart” means “at least you tried, it’s not your fault God made you dumb as a bag of hammers.”

    1. Meh. As bad as it is, there is far less overt corruption, theft and bribery in the US than in many places, and not just the third world.

      1. No – the corruption here is institutionalized and deemed not illegal.

        Our entire government is bought and paid for, and panders to the moneyed interests, and you call it “not corrupt”. The whole system is wretched – and “whataboutism” doesn’t make it better or justify it.

        Just a different kind of corruption and corruption is off-limits to the little guy, but part and parcel of everyday operations to the bigwigs.

        Wake the fuck up.

  11. “There is nothing illegal about traveling with large amounts of cash.”

    Not yet. Watch what happens if the government loses this class action suit.

    1. Lemme guess – they appeal it?
      Then if they do pay, systematically create laws to strip away whatever pathetic rights we have left so that they can continue looting unhindered?

  12. Gig’em baby! Good luck although I don’t think you’ll need it. Land of the free, home of the brave, well, most of the time yes, increasingly sometimes no… I’m not sure what the rich and powerful BIG Corporate have in mind for us 15 – 20 years up the road…

      1. That was a hundred years ago. 20 years from now we’ll be lucky to think without government prying around looking for terrorists. Reason will be posting about all the mind rape going on and we’ll be simultaneously outraged and apathetic – like usual.

      2. Serfdom is what the Democrats have planned. It’s a logical outcome of their socialist world view where government owns the people.

        1. BillyG, as a Conservative I’m inclined to agree with you however, what, you think the power Republicans really care about the average American working and middle class? You think Trump REALLY cares about the working and middle class?

          In my humble opinion both parties at the upper levels are corrupt. What happened to Stay Jones and her husband, that will happen whether it’s Trump/Pence or Biden?Harris in charge. We are screwed.

  13. “”Jones thinks Americans traveling in the United States should not have to live in fear of money-grabbing law enforcement officials””

    DaHahahaha!!!!! That’s hilarious, if not naive. That’s what the entire police force from one coast to the other is, the revenue extortion mob. Municipal terrorists one and all. Engineered & purpose built by the B.A.R. Association that infests every level of government in every town, city and state in this country.
    Back the Blue Lies Mafia

    1. You’re still here? Are you sqrlsy? Because you sound a lot like a dried up fucking piece of repeating shit.

  14. Amendment 5 – in part
    nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    The Fraternal Order of Police lobbys heavily to prevent laws that would limit asset seizure just as they oppose any attempt for police civilian review boards to be created. Once again, corrupt police are literally stealing the People’s lives and property for personal gain and our useless representatives do nothing. In Nevada, it’s not uncommon for seized assets to never make it into safekeeping. The police convert the seized cash to their cash and never record the seizure. All of these crimes make those upon which the Declaration of Independence was justified and drafted appear petty by comparison.

  15. Give old Uncle Sam the money. Be a patriot why don’t you?

  16. but wait, bobbleheads say cops are all good when they shoot black people, but not when they steal money, from, ohh, wait, I see it now

  17. Hasn’t she heard? Looting is legal now.

  18. Look, jacob gets one right

  19. I am surprised there isn’t more of an uproar. Has AntiFa or BLM ever been the target of this government fraud? I would like to watch that cat fight.

  20. The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

    1. “Just following orders” was often a good defense at Nurenberg. Another was “it vass eizer good christian nationalsocialists or communist atheists! Which vould you prefer?”

  21. Always write up receipts, one for you and one for the buyer, when selling a car for cash. Include the mileage on the receipt. Snap a photo of the front and back of the title after you endorse it to the new owner.

  22. “It’s wrong that the government treats people like criminals even though they are doing something perfectly legal. It needs to stop.”

    They do it for the children.

  23. Clearly not a civilised country.

    Why is this even being debated?

    Why are those who stole these monies not in the dock?

    1. Because it’s legal. Pay attention.

  24. If the victim knows the odometer reading, the next question is “what is the pressure in all four tires and the spare?” Failure to recite those measurements is, to Transport Sozialist Arbeiterpartei and Drogenbekämpfung Ewige Arbeiterpartei jihad looters, absolute proof of guilt. -Libertariantranslator

    1. What would actually happen is that the victim would accidentally give an incorrect odometer reading and be arrested for lying.

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  26. Carrying legal tender is not illegal apparently.

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  28. Usually there are circumstances that justify the seizure, K-9 sniff, travel profile (one way ticket to a pot legal state from a non pot legal state). If she had documentation showing the gambling winnings (which she should have had if she was transporting that much money in cash), it wouldn’t have been an issue. Still won’t, since she can file a claim and produce said documentation. Casinos don’t generally pay out that much in cash, you get a cashier’s check.

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