Federal authorities are making their case for keeping more than $131,000 seized from three travelers at an airport in Medford, Oregon, as part of what they claim is a multi-state marijuana smuggling operation. Even though no one has been charged with a crime, federal prosecutors are seeking to seize the cash using civil asset forfeiture.
Civil asset forfeiture is a controversial legal process that allows law enforcement and prosecutors to seize assets (cash, vehicles, real estate, etc.) they suspect is connected to a crime, without arresting or charging the owner.
According to court documents filed last month, the seizure occurred on July 29, 2020 at the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in San Diego reportedly alerted their counterparts in Medford about “suspicious activity” by three unnamed travelers who were believed to be flying to Medford from New Orleans.
Investigators waited for the travelers to land in Medford and intercepted their luggage as it was being unloaded. They seized six pieces of luggage and brought in narcotics-sniffing dogs, who alerted them to all six bags, according to court filings. The agents claim the bags had such a strong scent of marijuana, even they were able to detect it as they handled the luggage.
The three travelers were reportedly waiting in the baggage claim area, unaware their luggage had been seized by federal agents. They had no idea what was happening until DEA agents approached them and asked if the bags belonged to them. They were taken in for questioning when they responded affirmatively, court documents indicate.
The three allegedly gave conflicting statements about the reason for and destinations of their trip. Two of them purportedly gave investigators consent to search their bags. One of the bags consisted “almost entirely of camouflage cargo shorts” with pockets filled with bundles of cash, investigators said. Another traveler’s bag revealed a “large amount of currency concealed in the same fashion,” authorities allege. The agents seized $131,735 in cash, but they let the travelers go without arresting them. Federal officials are now trying to keep the money, claiming it’s connected to a marijuana smuggling operation spanning several states.
Special Agent David Wentworth noted in court documents that out-of-state marijuana buyers often get a one-way flight, conceal cash in clothes, then buy drugs and rent a car to transport it back to the original state. Wentworth said that’s why the luggage often smells like marijuana on subsequent trips. However, no drugs were reportedly found on the three travelers.
The court filing isn’t against the travelers, but against the cash itself. This case highlights why civil forfeiture is so controversial. Even though the three travelers haven’t been charged, they could lose their cash if the filing is approved by a judge. In many states, the agency that performed the seizure gets to keep a large percentage or all of the proceeds. Critics of forfeiture argue this creates an incentive for law enforcement to “police for profit” by giving them the power to seize property from travelers with impunity. Victims of forfeiture often have little chance of getting back their property without the assistance of an experienced attorney.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Have federal agents taken your property using civil forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get the assistance of a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.