According to news sources, Stacey Jones and her husband were stopped by airport security and questioned about the cash, which they had with them in a carry-on bag. Airport security called the police, who eventually alerted the DEA.
During their interview with DEA agents, the couple explained that they were traveling to a casino reopening in North Carolina and the money had come from a recent private sale of a vehicle. The DEA agents decided the cash was probably being used for a drug transaction, even though they had no proof, and confiscated it using civil asset forfeiture laws.
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal tool that allows law enforcement agencies to seize property—vehicles, cash, real estate—from individuals without necessarily charging them for any wrongdoing. Proponents of the law see it an important tool for combating drug traffickers and other criminals, but critics argue that the law is ripe for abuse because law enforcement agencies get to keep the lion’s share of the proceeds.
It is very easy for innocent individuals to get caught in the process, to the extent that their 4th and 5th Amendment rights are possibly being violated. While there is no law in the U.S. that limits how much cash a U.S. citizen can fly with, traveling with more than $5,000 in cash puts you at risk of civil forfeiture. The DEA hasn’t publicly announced a formal threshold, but it is widely believed to have a policy for seizing large sums of cash at airports regardless of whether there is any proof the money is connected to drug trafficking.
Jones has hired an attorney to challenge the forfeiture and get her money back, according to sources. Her attorney has reportedly filed a class action lawsuit against the DEA on her behalf.
Incidents of unwarranted cash seizures at airports are unfortunately quite common. A recently published analysis by the Institute of Justice (IJ) revealed that between 2000 and 2016, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and agencies associated with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have used civil asset forfeiture to seize more than $2 billion from travelers in U.S. airports.
The IJ analysis found half of the recorded seizures were from travelers who purportedly did not declare they were traveling with more than $10,000. Other common reasons for seizures were suspected connections to drug trafficking, smuggling, or some other violation of state or federal law.
Getting back forfeited property often requires the owner to prove in court that it was not involved in a crime, which is why anyone who has had their property seized by law enforcement should immediately consult an attorney. An experienced attorney can help you challenge the seizure and ensure you have your property returned to you in a timely manner.
South Florida Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has your lawful property been seized using asset forfeiture? Contact Brian Silber, P.A. to set up a free initial consultation and work with one of South Florida’s most experienced civil asset forfeiture defense attorneys.