In January, FBI agents seized $77,010 in cash from a couple traveling from Dallas to California. The man and woman say they intended to use the money to buy bitcoins. The FBI, however, believes it is drug money and has begun civil asset forfeiture proceedings to permanently acquire the cash.
The man and woman, who have not been named, checked their bags into their flight at Dallas Love Field. A Southwest Airlines employee noticed that the two bags—a duffel bag and a backpack—had the “pungent and distinctive” aroma of marijuana. The employee also noted that there were “wads of USD spilling out of the backpack.” A police dog then confirmed the presence of drugs on both the duffel bag and backpack.
In separate interviews, the couple confirmed that they were both traveling to Burbank to trade the cash for bitcoins. The man explained he had arranged to meet someone when they arrived and intended to fly back to Dallas within a day.
When asked how he came to be carrying such a large sum of cash, the man explained he had earned it in the music industry. The woman said she was a lash extension technician and also sold hair to various salons. The man said he and the woman had smoked marijuana the day before. This, he explained, is the reason the money smelled.
According to the complaint for forfeiture filed in July, there were inconsistencies in woman’s story, while the man appeared nervous throughout his interview. The complaint also noted that individuals carrying drug money on a flight often checked their bags so they would not be questioned at TSA checkpoints.
No criminal charges have been filed against either the woman or the man. It is legal to carry large sums of cash in the United States. Only if an individual is leaving the country with more than $10,000 in cash does that money need to be declared. Despite this, the FBI has moved to seize the cash using civil asset forfeiture. This is a legal procedure where law enforcement may take property or cash suspected of being involved in a crime. In most states, neither a criminal conviction nor even criminal charges are needed for police to take the property.
In Texas, the standard of evidence for civil asset forfeiture is much lower than it would be in a criminal case. A criminal conviction requires that evidence be “beyond reasonable doubt,” and the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. For cases of civil forfeiture, however, all that is required is “a preponderance of the evidence.” Additionally, the burden of proof lies with the owner: he or she must prove the property was not used in a crime.
According to the exchange rate in January 2018, the $77,010 would have been enough to buy 6.1 bitcoins.
Critics of bitcoin argue that it could provide criminals with the opportunity to launder money, circumventing traditional anti-money laundering laws. However, according to National Police Agency in Japan, where bitcoin is a legal currency, less than 0.17% of money laundering cases involve bitcoin. Additionally, as all bitcoin transactions are public and auditable, it is possible to track illegal activity.
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.