Civil Asset Forfeiture

DEA Seizes Life Savings of New Orleans Grandfather Without Charging Him With a Crime

The case is the latest example of people who say their savings were seized in airports, despite it being perfectly legal to fly domestically with large amounts of cash.


A New Orleans grandfather says the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took his life savings based on flimsy accusations of drug trafficking and without ever charging him with a crime. Now he's fighting to get it back.

Kermit Warren, a former longshoreman, says he and his son had gotten laid off from their jobs last year during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and he was trying to turn a side-business as a scrapper into a full-time venture. To that end, he and his son traveled to Ohio with roughly $28,000 to purchase a tow truck.

However, Warren claims the tow truck was too large for his needs, so he and his son bought a one-way ticket back home. In the airport, three DEA agents stopped the two men and questioned them about the bag of cash they were carrying.

The complaint against Warren's money filed in federal court says Warren and his son gave suspicious and incomplete answers about their travel itinerary and plans to buy the truck. Based on that, the agents seized his money. The complaint alleges that a drug dog later alerted on the cash, and that the DEA had previously received a tip of drug trafficking activity at his son's residence. Warren denies any involvement in drug activity.

The government is now seeking to keep Warren's money forever through a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, despite there being no concrete evidence that he was involved in drug trafficking. Warren is represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has filed several lawsuits on behalf of people who had significant amounts of cash seized from them at airports on the mere suspicion of drug trafficking.

"The government shouldn't be able to take every dollar I've saved up when I've committed no crime," Kermit said in an Institute for Justice press release announcing his case. "Since they seized my money it has been very difficult for me to provide for my family and pay my bills. The way the government has treated me made me feel like dirt. I hope not only to get my money back, but to stop this nightmare from happening to anyone else."

Although there is nothing illegal about flying domestically with large amounts of undeclared cash, federal and local law enforcement have a habit of seizing currency from travelers under civil asset forfeiture laws. Civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize property—cash, cars, guns, houses—suspected of being connected to criminal activity, even if the owner is never charged or convicted of a crime.

The Institute for Justice is currently litigating a separate class-action lawsuit on behalf of people whose cash was seized by the DEA at airports. One of the lead plaintiffs in that case, Stacy Jones, had  $43,167 in cash seized by the DEA 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.

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 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.

The DEA also agreed to return the cash it seized from Jones, but the Institute for Justice argues that the DEA and Transportation Security Administration's practice of seizing cash from travelers at airports violates the Fourth Amendment.

The DEA and TSA often flag airport travelers who exhibit supposedly suspicious behavior, such as purchasing one-way tickets with short turnaround times and traveling lightly. 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.

"DEA's practice of 'see money, seize money' counts on people's inability to navigate the maze of civil forfeiture proceedings in order to get their property back," Institute for Justice attorney Jaba Tsitsuashvili said in a press release. "The government shouldn't be able to keep a person's life savings without a related criminal conviction. But people like Kermit are essentially forced to prove their innocence just to keep what they worked so hard to earn. And law enforcement agencies use that money to pad their own policing budgets. This abuse needs to end."

NEXT: Don't Excuse Biden for His Botched Afghanistan Withdrawal

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Every so often it’s important to whip a peasant just to keep the rest of them from getting any ideas.

    1. Making extra salary every month from home more than $15k just by doing simple copy and paste like online job. I have received $18635 from this easy home job and now I am a good online earner like others.QWe This job is super easy and its earnings are great. Everybody can now makes extra cash online easily by just follow

      The given website………. VISIT HERE

      1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and start getting paid idnSd the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

        See……………VISIT HERE

    2. Lysander Spooner’s formula was government massacre of tens of thousands if needed as a show of strength and determination to make them pay “their” taxes without a why or a wherefore. Prohibitionism is but another looter mask for dressing up robberies.

      1. I made over $700 per day using my mobile in part time. I recently got my 5th paycheck of $19632 and all i was doing is to copy and paste work online.EDc this home work makes me able to generate more cash daily easily. simple to do work and regular income from this are just superb. Here what i am doing.

        Try now……………… VISIT HERE

  2. The highway robbers and Government Almighty are now one and the same!

  3. 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

    There’s a lot wrong in this sentence

    (and no, my comment is not intended to suggest I suspect Mr Rolin of nefarious activity). But if you’re a retired Railroad Engineer, your life savings should be way more than $82,373. Way more.

    1. ” But if you’re a retired Railroad Engineer, your life savings should be way more than $82,373. Way more.”

      Indeed. But, assuming he raised a bunch of kids, and has most of his money tied up in a home, it’s within reason. And remember, he most likely has a really good pension (as did my uncle, who worked for SP for about thirty years), and saw no need to have a $1/2 million or so in the bank.

    2. How do you know the $82k is all the money he has? “Life savings” could mean he has several million invested in stocks, real estate, or even shady accounts in the caribbean.

    3. Small regional and company owned railroads pay engineers as little as $17 per hour according to reported salaries on Glassdoor. Not every engineer makes the $100K+ Union Pacific pays its senior engineers.

    4. 79 also means his workin days were long time ago when money had value. BTW, this week was the 50th anniversary of the end of the gold-backed dollar. At that time, an ounce of gold was 35$, roughly what it had been since the first central bank started issuing US dollars. An ounce of gold is now what? 1800$?

    5. Diane, I can assure you that the information is correct, since I am his attorney. $82,373 was his seized life savings. He retired in 1994 and continues to receive his monthly pension payments. He has had a number of expenses, including medical expenses, in the intervening years.

      1. The IJ is doing really good work, and tore those parasitical thugs off of an elderly couple guilty of carrying their own savings to help out their son. Their work is way more relevant than that of the communist anarchists and illiterate clowns currently infiltrating the LNC to alienate libertarian voters.

      2. ++

  4. Don’t carry lots of cash because the men tasked with protecting you from robbers will rob you.

    Why do you need to carry all that cash? Seriously? Other than “why the fuck not?” why? I wouldn’t . I’d be afraid of losing it by accident, robbery, police or whatever.

    Whatever happened to cashiers checks?

    1. I don’t know. Maybe if you go into a bank that didn’t know you – with a bunch of cash – while black – they would report it as suspicious anyway.

      1. I just don’t get why someone would have that much cash. I mean currency in hand. What’s wrong with debit cards?

        1. Most debit cards have a $700 daily withdrawal limit or so, at least if it’s from a personal checking or savings account.

          1. That’s when I call up my credit union to tell them I’m buying a car, and the limit goes away.

            1. Jesus fucking Christ man. Is this really what being a Democratic Party shill has reduced you to? I mean I give you a lot of shit, and you are without any doubt a total and complete worthless sack of subhuman shit, but wow. Even I wouldn’t have ever have accused you of being an apologist for cops stealing cash. You really are a morally depraved cunt.

              1. After leaving my previous job 12 months ago, i’ve had some good luck to learn about this website which was a life-saver for me… They offer jobs for which people can work online from their house. My latest paycheck after working for them for 4 months was for $4500… Amazing thing about is that the only thing required is simple typing skills and access to internet…Read all about it here… READ MORE

      2. Lots of cash invites trouble. Like a cute girl wearing a short dress and then getting wasted at a frat party. She isn’t saying “Rape me!” and the guy who rapes her is still a rapist, but fuck man it could have been so easily avoided.

        1. He should have used bitcoin.

          1. The feds seize bitcoin all the time.

        2. If there were a cute girl in a short dress and I was at that frat party, I would leave, because there’s no way I’m going to be the subject of years of prosecutorial misconduct and the object of public performance art involving a mattress.

        3. Being a self-confessed drug addict you’d think you might have more sympathy for people who, for various reasons, might need to carry large amounts of cash and don’t want to have their entire personal fortune jammed up at the whim of a financial institution. Get off your fucking knees dude. Holy fuck.

      3. If you stick more than 10,000 in a bank, black or white, you’re going to get reported.

        1. And if you stick less than 10k in a bank you’ll get reported for evading reporting.

        2. Ah, the “Knife Your Customer” provision in “the” banking law meant to protect us all. Lame duck Herbert Hoover unleashed something similar after voters decided his fat ass would leave the office in Nov 1932.

      4. Even your own bank will file a “Suspicious Activity Report on you–without telling you!–if you bring in $3,000 cash, and $10,000 will bring the IRS on you fast and hard, freezing your account until they hold a hearing (guilty until proven innocent) on how you got the money. If you sold a used car and they paid cash, you better have a receipt and the buyer’s name and address. It won’t matter if you’re black, white, yellow or plaid, that’s the law.

        1. NO< that is NOT the law. Or at least the law that SHOULD apply. Presumed innocence has been a part of American jurisprudence since colonial times. The burden of proof should ALWAYS be with the accuser/prosecutor. Impossible to completely prove a negative. What if…… there is other evidence that is not being presentd or….? We do NOT want to encourage the goons to be more aggressive. We have these protections BECAUSE of the excesses of goverNMEnts historically. BTW,, the fifth amendment says that no one should be forced to testify against themselves, and the fourth amendment says that no assets may be siezed without due process of law, and that warrants shall describe the specific property or evidence that the constabulary is looking for. Anything else is a fishing expedition, and should be prohibited, or tyranny is ours.

    2. I usually chalk it up to lack of awareness. It seems that most of these cases involve older, probably not well educated people. Even if the police didn’t “legally” rob you, if you get ILLEGALLY robbed, you will have literally zero recourse.

      “Cash don’t got owners, it only got spenders” -Omar

      1. Most of these cases involve fairly young people traveling from non-pot legal states to pot legal states to buy their pot and then drive it home in a rental car to re-sell at inflated price on the black market. Just need to legalize it all over and let people ship it through the normal UPS/FedEx/USPS channels and be done with it.

        1. That would be the absolute dumbest fucking business plan in human history given that legal weed costs a minimum of 50% above the average black market price due to the extortionist excise and sales taxes.

    3. Some people don’t trust banks so they hide it. There are people out there that don’t use credit cards or debt cards. You work your whole life saving and have it in a bank, god forbid you get sick and go into a nursing home; money gone. No bank no trace of money

    4. It is perfectly legal to fly with any amount of cash and it is perfectly legal to take risks with your own money. Why should DEA be able to seize it without evidence of a crime?

      Cash is king for purchasing used vehicles & equipment. Cash is often necessary for such transactions because you’re dealing with a stranger (who won’t trust you to write a personal check & drive away with their vehicle) and you need to be able to change the amount offered if you find the vehicle isn’t in the condition you anticipated after you inspect it, so a cashier’s check in a fixed amount won’t work. Cashier’s checks over a certain limit often take additional time to obtain. Wire transfers all take too long to go through, and everyday money transfer services like Venmo and Paypal have limits on how much money you can send in a day that are far less than the value of a tow truck.

      1. Thanks for your valuable input to this discussion. Do you regularly handle CAF cases?

    5. Too many forgeries.

    6. Black people have a long history of having their identities (and cash, bank accounts, property etc) stolen by white people with similar names. Next time you hear an unusual Black name, remember that their parents were trying to prevent this.

      I’d stay off planes so the Rat Brothers can’t pull this con.

  5. At what point are we going to acknowledge that our betters have no intention to do away with asset forfeiture! Although they know that a fire has been lit to signal that we the people are wise to their corruption, they understand that they don’t need to take all your shit but taking it all now with the hopes that they will end up with a good chunk of it years from now!

  6. The problem is the profile of people traveling by air with large amounts of US currency. Not technically illegal, and no one should be seizing money strictly on that basis. Usually there is more than one factor involved. A K-9 drug dog sniff that alerts to drug odors, inconsistent or inaccurate travel details, and giving permission for any law enforcement to look in your bag! There is a phenomenon now since pot is legal in some states but not in others, MJ buyer travel with a lot of cash, buy their weed and sell it on the black market when they get home.

    1. K9s also alert to cues from their handlers.

      If the dog alerted and they didn’t find any drugs in the package, then they are using it as a convenient excuse. Like one of the other myriad boilerplate phrases that appear to suspend all the rules when used by law enforcement.

      “We feared for our lives”
      “Stop resisting”
      “According to our confidential informant”


      1. Can I cross examine the drug dog before I am strip searched?

      2. Correction: “Drug sniffing” dogs are primarily trained to alert in cue. As actual drug sniffing dogs, the majority are little, if any, better than a coin flip.

      3. There is an estimate of drug residue being on 75% of all US currency. Most commonly on $20 and $100 dollar bills. I’d be surprised if a drug dog DIDN’T hit on the money.

    2. Fuck off with this shit you ignorant twat. As I just explained to you above, that would literally be the world’s dumbest fucking business plan. Legal weed in most states costs 2-3 more than black market weed. Even in the states that did legalization relatively well it’s still as much as 50% higher. The scenario you’re describing is simply not happening any fucking where.

    3. Considering the vast majority of legal US tender has cocaine residue on it (as in, pretty much all of it that isn’t brand-spanking new from the printing press), a drug dog alerting to money is pretty much guaranteed.

      1. Neat trick, isn’t it?

  7. You see, the Wright brothers’ patent on the invention of the airplane expired and the federal government co-opted it so anything that happens on an aircraft is federal jurisdiction. Then, since the wake from any craft taking off from even the smallest airstrip affects the weather patterns in nearby states, the federal government had to take over rulemaking in every airport in the nation. Finally, about 50 years ago, after disgruntled communist losers started hijacking airliners and diverting them to the Cuban Utopia, the feds obtained cart blanche to mandate rules to protect us serfs, whether they make sense or not. Who wants to ride in an airplane with dangerous cash on board? Hey, to make an omelet, you have to step on some eggs.

  8. If he ever supported the war on drugs then he deserved it *shrug*

  9. I’m sure the ‘Back the Blue’ folks will get rid of this kind of thing once they’re back in power. Feel the Fusionism!

    1. Hey remember when chocolate Jesus was going to repeal all drug laws and free all the oppressed patriotic nigras languishing in jail on drug charges, shreeky?

    2. Ah yes… Prohibitionist fascisti handing out Lyndon LaRouche “Fusion” magazines to associate national socialism and nuclear electricity in the minds of passers-by. Remember that when your electric bill comes in.

  10. The lesson for the day, children, is that since 9/11, airports are constitution-free zones, and no rational person would ever, ever, go into one.

  11. First, ALL money will trigger a drug dog; nearly all currency, even coming directly from a bank, has enough illegal drug scent on it to be deemed “drug money.” Second, it isn’t cash per se that makes the money suspicious; it’s that it is unsourced, especially if it does not come from a bank. If you walk into your bank to make a $10,000 cash deposit and the cash has no source known to the bank, the IRS WILL be calling on you, along with other unsavory government characters. Lesser known is that even $3,000 in unsourced cash requires the bank to send the IRS a Suspicious Activity Report–AND THEY CAN’T TELL YOU THEY DID IT. Even worse, if you know all this and try to beat the system with, say, $2,500 cash deposits over several months, you are breaking a law you didn’t know about, by “making structured transactions to evade federal reporting requirements.” Look up “FinCen” “Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) for information most people don’t know, but some of this I got from my retired bank teller wife.

    1. If I am not mistaken the reports go to the FBI not the IRS.

      1. FinCEN is part of the Department of Treasury and works closely with the IRS.

  12. is there any libertarian view of the Gov Whitmer Kidnap debacle – 2/3 of the kidnappers hatching the plot being FBI?
    -Havent seen anything here yet

    1. is there any libertarian view of the Gov Whitmer Kidnap debacle – 2/3 of the kidnappers hatching the plot being FBI?

      Yeah, it’s the same view as the Ashli Babbitt murder: uppity honkies have it coming.

    1. This is a federal forfeiture by DEA at an airport in Ohio from a man who was traveling from Ohio back to his home in Louisiana. What is “local” about it?

  13. Seize first and then look for a crime? When to we prosecute law enforcement for such actions.

    1. Citizens were authorized to shoot looters after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, so there is precedent.

  14. The courts should charge the DEA interest payable to anyone who had money seized and were never charged or convicted of a crime related to the seizure. The amount of interest should be some large percentage such as 200% more than the current percentage paid by a traditional bank savings account. So if the bank pays 3%, the DEA has to pay 203% to the victim that had their money seized.

    Or we could simply put the DEA agent and persons responsible in prison.

    1. Having the taxpayers cough up interest will not modify the illegal behavior.
      Have the authorizing executive forfeit a year of pension credit for each seizure will be much more effective.
      (of course, a supreme court that could actually read the fourth amendment would be best)

  15. Although society (including me) needs law-enforcers to protect the law-abiding and vulnerable people, I believe that to have a reasonable idea of how law-enforcers will perform their job, one must understand what underlying nature/desire motivated them to their profession to start with. I believe that many, if not most, law enforcers — be they private-property security, community police, prison guards, heavily-armed rapid-response police units or DEA — have targeted/acquired such authoritative fields of employment mainly for ‘power’ reasons, though perhaps subconsciously.

    In the U.S. and here in Canada, law-enforcement is a profession in which, besides the basic tackle and/or handcuffing, law-enforcers might get to storm into suspects’ homes, screaming, with fully-automatic machineguns or handguns drawn, at the homes’ occupants (to “face down!”), all of whom, including infants, can be permanently traumatized from the experience. Occasionally the law-enforcers force their way into the wrong home, altogether; that is when open-fire can and does occur, followed by wrongful deaths to be ‘impartially’ investigated.

    Those who deliberately get into such professions of (potential or actual) physical authority might do some honest soul-searching as to truly why. I would.

  16. Traveling with that amount of cash is not wise for this very reason. The government is always looking for an excuse to take you down. Regardless, none of this should have happened. Look forward to their victory in court.

  17. If he would accuse them of ‘racism’, it would all go away.????????????

  18. End the drug war.

    ALL of it.

  19. GoverNMEnt agents who are but thieves should get the same treatment as other thieves. No evidence? No charges? THe property should not be taken in the first place. But ESPECIALLY if goverNMEnt thieves refuse to return the $$, imprison and sentence them like you would any other thief.

  20. > The complaint against Warren’s money filed in federal court says Warren and his son gave suspicious and incomplete answers about their travel itinerary and plans to buy the truck.”

    You have the right to remain silent. Talking to feds leads them on a chase wasting valuable time that could be spent chasing bad guys. But $10,000 or more will do to drive the point home, eh?

  21. Happened to Mike Ehrmantraut too.

  22. How has our country thrown away the Fourth Amendment?
    “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 affi rmation,
    and particularly describing the place to be searched,
    and the persons or things to be seized.”

  23. The DEA is an enemy of America and the idea of freedom in general.

    So this isn’t much of a surprise.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.