Josh Gingerich of Yuba City in northern California buys and flips trucks for a living. On a buying trip in February, the DEA stopped Josh at the airport and confiscated the $29,000 in cash he was carrying. Josh was not arrested, nor did he commit any crime. Despite this, the DEA is refusing to give his money back.
Law enforcement was able to take Josh’s money using a process called civil asset forfeiture. This is a legal procedure where property or cash can be seized if it has been suspected of involvement in a crime. As it is a civil and not a legal procedure, in most states property owners do not need to be charged with a crime before their property may be taken.
Josh was traveling with “a little over 29 grand,” he explained, stressing he had “no marijuana, no drugs” on him. Josh believes the TSA contacted the DEA when he was going through airport security and his backpack, which contained the cash, was screened.
DEA agents led Josh away with them. They take you down to a dingy basement room,” said Josh. “No cameras. No nothing.” Josh believes the DEA set him up. Officers said they could smell marijuana on a bag of dirty laundry he was carrying. Josh describes how officers emptied out the clothes and stuffed the cash into the bag. It was only then that they brought in the drug dog to smell the cash.
“They can just do what they want,” said Josh. “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.” Unfortunately for Josh, while this is true for a criminal case, in cases of civil asset forfeiture, the burden of proof usually lies with the property owner. In Illinois, where Josh’s money was taken, the law requires owners to prove their property was “in no way” involved in a crime.
Josh hired an attorney, Michael Schmiege to help get his money back. “It’s not a quick and easy process. It’s not like traffic court—it can drag on for years.” Schmiege also talked about the use of drug dogs when Josh’s money was seized. “Most United States currency has trace amounts of narcotics on it.” It is unsurprising, then, that drug dogs often detect it during seizures.
In a twist, Josh and his lawyer are also questioning the competence of one of the officers who took the cash. A Chicago Police Department officer was working on the DEA taskforce at the time. At least 27 complaints have been filed against this officer in separate incidents. Six complaints were for illegal searches. The officer has been cleared of all except one complaint. The officer has also been sued, which resulted in two settlements. These cases involved a bad drugs-related arrest and searches.
While it is a requirement to declare currency in excess of $10,000 when leaving the country, it is legal to carry currency within the U.S. As Benjamin Ruddell of the ACLU explains: “There’s no prohibition on carrying cash or carrying large amounts of cash.”
Ruddell questions the purpose of cases such as the one involving Josh. “If the purpose of this is to disrupt illegal activity,” he said, “we’d see some of these people be arrested.”
A Justice Department report from last year showed the DEA seized $3.2 billion in the period 2007-16. No convictions were tied to this money at all.
If Josh is unable to get his money back, it will be shared between the federal government and local law enforcement.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
If your lawful property has been seized, then you should hire a lawyer. Contact us to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of Florida’s most experienced civil forfeiture defense attorneys.