Civil Asset Forfeiture

DEA to Return $43,000 It Seized From Tampa Woman at Airport

The DEA dropped its attempt to keep the money roughly two months after the woman joined a class-action lawsuit challenging cash seizures at airports.


The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will return more than $43,000 it seized from a Tampa woman at an airport after she joined a class-action lawsuit challenging the agency's practice of using civil asset forfeiture to confiscate cash from travelers.

The DEA seized $43,167 from Stacy Jones last May as she was trying to fly home to Tampa, Florida, from Wilmington, North Carolina. Jones says the cash was from the sale of a used car, as well as money she and her husband intended to take to a casino.

Jones is now a named plaintiff in a class-action civil rights lawsuit filed in January by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm. Although it is legal to fly domestically with large amounts of undeclared cash, the Institute for Justice lawsuit claims that the DEA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have 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 a Nov. 12 letter to Jones' attorney, the DEA announced it would be returning all of Jones' money.

"Getting my money back is a big relief, but DEA never should have taken it in the first place," Jones said in an Institute for Justice press release. "In going through this nightmare, I found out that I'm not the only innocent American who has been treated this way. I hope that my continuing lawsuit will end the government's practice of treating people flying with cash like criminals."

Under civil asset forfeiture laws, police and prosecutors can seize property when that property is suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never charged or convicted of a crime. Law enforcement groups say the practice allows them to disrupt organized crime, like drug trafficking, by targeting its illicit proceeds. 

However, civil liberties groups say civil asset forfeiture has too few procedural protections for property owners and creates perverse incentives for police to seize cash based on mere suspicion. 

Reason reported on Jones' case in September, when she joined the class-action suit as a plaintiff:

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 DEA.

A local sheriff's deputy, alerted to the presence of seizable cash by 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.

One of the other named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Terrence Rolin, a 79-year-old retired railroad engineer, had his life savings of $82,373 seized by the DEA after his daughter, Rebecca Brown, tried to take it on a flight out of Pittsburgh with the intent of depositing it in a bank. After the case went public, the DEA returned the money.

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.

"We are glad that Stacy will get her money back, but it is shameful that federal agents keep targeting innocent flyers at our nation's airports," Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban said. "We are going to keep fighting to end TSA's and DEA's unconstitutional and unlawful practices of seizing people and their cash without reasonable suspicion or probable cause."

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  1. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will return more than $43,000 it seized from a Tampa woman at an airport after she joined a class-action lawsuit challenging the agency’s practice of using civil asset forfeiture to confiscate cash from travelers.

    So, I admit I skimmed the article quickly, but is this another case of the government hustling to drop its objection so its process doesn’t get scrutinized in court?

    1. I think probably yes they are trying to moot her as a lead plaintiff. I don’t think it will work, though. There are decent precedents that can be used to block that kind of game-playing.

      Better, of course, would be for Congress to do their damned jobs and make civil asset forfeiture illegal (except for the original ‘unclaimed contraband’ scenario).

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    3. Since she was deprived of the use of that money and any interest or investment returns for six months, her case is not mooted.

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  2. Ah now will democrats make any changes? I assume they will not. Let me guess if they take the Senate none of this will change. Because they do not give a shit.

    1. Most of these asset forfeiture laws were, if I recall, passed in the late 80s/early 90s. We’ve had Four Democratic administrations since that time, so I think you have your answer.

      1. Yup, and who was an active senator at that time calling black people “super predators,” pushing for brutal and cruel punishments for drug offenses?

        Oh yeah, Joe Biden!

        1. FWIW The super predators comment was Hillary Clinton and she was first lady at the time.

          1. Good factual correction. At least Biden didn’t pick a super prosecutor for VP. oh wait…

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          2. Joe, Hillary, what’s the difference? Both shoved their tongues down Robt C Byrd’s throat when it was politically expedient.

      2. I forget. Who was President and signed these laws in the late 80s/early 90s? Oh, yeah. Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush.

        1. True. As inthe case of the Prohibition Amendment, the instigator was a Texas politician, joined by Biden and Leahy of VT and backed by Ron and Nancy, Dole, Hatch, Danforth, D’Amato, Mattingly, Lugar, Warner, Thurmond, Chiles, DeConcini, Rockefeller, Nunn, Dodd, Byrd… practically every looter joined in–except Goldwater who suggested all drugs be legalized. Biden’s reply was that “Big Brother made a judgment that we should, in fact, protect our citizens even those who are inflicting this sin upon themselves.” So if your door comes down in a hail of bullets, feel protected!

        2. Wow, you just won the 100 yard dash to miss the point.

        3. H.R.1658 – Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 passed House 375-48 June 24, 2000, with Amendment, passed Senate by Unanimous Consent March 27, 2000, Amendment passed House by voice vote April 11, 2000. Signed by Clinton April 25, 2000.

          That was the perfect time to correct or eliminate the bill. But both parties (including Biden in the Senate) were perfectly fine with it.

          Trying to make this one party or the other is silly. Both parties are to blame.

    2. Why would they? This is Joe Biden’s war on drugs in action.

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      This bill from 2014, proposed to committee while Biden was VP went no where. Neither party seems concerned about the violation of civil rights and government theft.

  3. Abolish DEA.

    1. Enjoy the new drug warrior administration.

    2. Defund the DEA!

    3. Well Jeffy, if that’s what you want, hi supported the wrong guy.

  4. By now, surely everyone know that US airports are constitution free zones.

  5. >>practice or policy

    quickly ended before judicial intervention required. good for her for challenging.

  6. The government stealing this cash is clearly unconstitutional. However, given the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising. I would never go through an airport with this much cash (for one, I don’t have this much money in the bank) because this occurrence was extremely predictable. And that’s what is so maddening. These assholes did it because they figured there is a decent chance they would get away with it. I wish I could say these drug warriors’ days are numbered, but we just elected two high ranking officials in this war against U.S. citizens…

  7. Plus interest, court fees, and attorney fees?

    1. Lol, that was a mandatory, zero-interest loan to the government.

  8. Could you buy a Visa card with the cash and have a secret PIN number for it?
    Might that be a better way to transport large amounts of money?
    Everyone has a card like that in their wallet.
    The pin would keep the Feds from knowing what’ balance is on the card

    1. You’re right, of course, but why should we worry about the government stealing our money? They do it because they can, using a law written by Biden. What a civil libertarian we’ve elected.

    2. The feds would still know the balance because of the mandatory reporting by banks under the Bank Secrecy Act. The point of cash is (often) to avoid the ought-to-be-unconstitutional monitoring of that very act.

      1. Why is it called the Bank Secrecy Act then?

    3. Nope – carrying debit/prepaid cards is also a sign of criminal activity.

      Even better, they can take the money right off the card, while you wait!

    4. The Biden+Republicans 1986 drug law also in “Sec 1956 Laundering of monetary instruments” says “(2)… transport a monetary instrument or funds from a place in the United States to or through a place outside the United States or to a place in the United States from or through a place outside the United States…” I’d bet money prosecutors would make “twice the value of” that Visa card theirs and fine you the $500,000 the law provides. Before the internet few people knew that “marijuana” means any stem, root or seed. Yet these same looters are reelected over and over like a white-collar crime gang.

  9. More criminals with guns and badges.

  10. “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

  11. Unfortunately, Asset Forfeiture or Civil Asset Forfeiture, aka Theft Under Color of Law has become a cash cow for government. Unfortunately, the creature has become altogether to long lived, the cow should long since have been led to the slaughter house. Additionally, there seems to be zero in the way of adverse consequences for the users of this scam. How come this? Indeed, HOW COME THIS?

    1. It is things like negative-consequence-free asset forfeiture (created by the legislators, bureaucrats, and courts), no-knock SWAT raids based on flimsy or falsified warrants, and “testilying” in court (because the perp is a “scumbag”) that have made the police their own worse enemy when they are trying to counter the Defund The Police movement.

    2. Part of the answer is that the 1986 “Anti-Drug Abuse” jihad specifically repeals Section 613 of the Tariff Act of 1930. That’s the part where is you want your property refunded “Upon production of satisfactory proof that… such forfeiture was incurred without any willful negligence or intention to defraud…” (The Treasury or Commerce Secretary) “may order the proceeds of the sale, or any part thereof, restored to the applicant…” The part about property “condemned by decree of a district court” gets replaced by any goon with a gun scenting easy pickings. This is in the tariff act fools assert caused the Crash (instead of prohibition forfeitures).

  12. Everyone gets the government some people deserve. Until ‘the people’ start exercising their civic rights, the abuse will continue. Nation of sheep, indeed.

  13. “We are going to keep fighting to end TSA’s and DEA’s unconstitutional and unlawful practices of seizing people and their cash without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.”

    HAHA everything is probable cause to law enforcement.

    1. How about without a conviction and a court order?

    2. That can work both ways. The 1986 Jihad on Drugs law SEC. 15003 turns men with guns loose on anyone holding a joint in National Forest Service jurisdiction. But I’ll bet money prohibitionist politicians react with shock and surprise to any suggestion that their violent shakedowns could have anything whatsoever to do with forests going up like bonfires these past several years.

  14. “This practice, the suit argues, violates travelers’ Fourth Amendment rights.”

    How can cash be considered “papers and effects”? Sure it’s made out of paper and it belongs to you, but it’s over the five thousand dollar limit in the Fourth Amendment!

    1. Actually, it’s not made from paper.

    2. There’s no $5,000 limit. The 4th says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

      And money should fall under “persons” when it’s carried on or about a person.

    3. 4A was severely weakened by Prohibition Portia prosecutor Mabel Willebrandt who beginning in 1925 advised the Internal Revenue Bureau about confiscations. The Marron case gutted 4A and the Manly Sullivan case ditched 5A, making dealers liable for filing tax forms reporting illegal income. Her “tell all” column in Aug-Sept of 1929 started the stock market downhill to the Crash and Great Depression. All this is covered in “Prohibition and The Crash”

  15. Civil asset forfeiture laws are b***s***. The government is taking your property (your money) and using it for public purposes (padding their budgets) without due process or just compensation. Clearly unconstitutional.

    1. Did you mean to say ‘bullshit’?

  16. The law is horrible, but the DEA needs to be abolished.
    Any LEO that would use a law like that is a POS that should be behind bars

  17. An elderly couple asked me for help with tax forms. It turned out the Drogenbekämpfung Ewige Arbeiterpartei, under cover of Jihad on Drugs, had confiscated their life savings intended for their son–thanks to some fine print. He went to the IJ, which I knew about from Reason. IJ lawyers helped him get most of his parents’ cash back from the looters. Such seizures were the main cause of the Crashes of 1929, 1971, 1987 and 2008. They drive money out of the fractional-reserve banking system and your IRA goes straight down the toilet in the resulting liquidity crunch.

  18. “A local sheriff’s deputy, …grilled Jones and her husband about the money and deemed their explanation fishy,…”


    Invoke your 5th amendment right. Exercising a constitutional right cannot be converted into a crime.

    1. Not answering questions is suspicious. Don’t worry, you won’t be charged with a crime. Your money will be though. :^)

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  21. Not answering questions is suspicious. Don’t worry, you won’t be charged with a crime. Your money will be though.

  22. Government issued legal tender is a crime?

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