On February 3rd, a woman in Detroit Metropolitan Airport outbound for Amsterdam was caught smuggling $60,000 worth of cash, news sources report. U.S Customs and Border Protection seized the money and held the woman under custody. According to a CBP spokesperson, the passenger is not facing any allegations. It is not known whether the woman has retained a civil asset forfeiture attorney.
The passenger was said to initially have declared $1,000 with the CBP officers. However, upon inspection of the woman’s luggage, envelopes of cash were hidden in a package of sanitary pads. Although reasons behind the woman’s choice to hide the cash are not known, suspected illicit behavior alone legally allows U.S Customs and Border Protection officers to seize large amounts of undeclared cash.
The Bank Secrecy Act allows government officials to confiscate sizable amounts of cash due to “suspicious” behavior. While carrying a large sum of money in airports is not illegal, the Federal Currency law states that for international travel, cash or other monetary instruments (i.e., traveler’s checks, foreign coins, etc.) amounting more than $10,000 must be declared on the FinCen customs form when arriving or exiting the United States.
Violators of this rule face seizure and confiscation of undeclared currency. This can occur whether or not they were aware of the FinCen customs form. It is not clear whether the woman from whom the cash was confiscated in this case gave an explanation for the undeclared cash.
If cash is seized, like in this case, officers must file a Custody Receipt for Seized Property as a protection against agents pocketing some of the money. Citizens may then petition to recover their seized cash. Because civil asset forfeiture is not criminal, people seeking to get their assets back are not provided with a lawyer. They must either represent themselves or retain an attorney.
Many lawmakers have voiced complaints about asset forfeiture laws giving government officials broad powers to seize undeclared cash in absence of a crime. Detroit CBP officials have seized $7.5 million from 436 travelers since 2006, and in 2019 alone, agents seized $4.4 million for the fiscal year—a 62% increase in the confiscation of undeclared currency from international travelers. Given that only a small fraction of seizures is linked to suspicious itineraries, it seems that the remaining cases for petition are in limbo.
In addition, over two thirds of currency seizures in the U.S. are not accompanied by arrest; most cases were merely due to paperwork violations. A study examining how the Department of Homeland Security agencies (including the CBP) use civil forfeitures to take and keep currency from unsuspecting travelers found how much flows into government budgets and coffers. Because 93% of cases are processed without judicial oversight, civil forfeitures take months, and up to 15 years of legal battle before citizens may even reclaim the money. To this day, innocent passengers remain at risk of currency seizures from CBP without crime associated activities linked to it.
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement taken away your property using civil asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and get assistance from a nationwide federal civil asset forfeiture attorney.