In 2019, a woman traveling from Pittsburgh with $82,000 in cash was stopped by authorities at the airport, and her money was seized using civil asset forfeiture.
According to the press, the woman was carrying her father’s life savings to deposit in a bank when she was confronted by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents about the cash.
The TSA agents eventually released her, but she was then detained by officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) before she boarded her flight. The agents questioned her about the origins of the money. She explained that it was her father’s money and she was just helping him put it in a bank. The DEA officers let her go, but they allegedly seized the cash under suspicion of being involved in a crime.
The woman and her father pursued legal action against the TSA and the DEA, and in January 2020, the money was finally returned to them. Their case has become part of a larger class-action lawsuit involving multiple individuals who had their cash taken at the airport by TSA and DEA agents.
The TSA and DEA applied for a motion to dismiss the case after they returned the money to the woman. Their initial argument was that there is no harm intended to individuals traveling with cash in their policies. The magistrate judge presiding over the pretrial did not agree. In the ruling, the judge pointed out there is merit to the suit because the agencies tend to seize large amounts of money during airport screenings.
The agencies further argued that deciding not to carry cash while traveling should be a personal preference and not a decision made because of the TSA and DEA’s policies. In fact, the existence of seizure policies would be unconstitutional. They pointed out that the plaintiffs failed to establish the presence of such policies. They presumed that the plaintiffs suffered a few unrelated incidents at airports around the country.
In their rebuttal, the plaintiffs raised numerous points. They claim there are dozens of cases involving asset seizure in airports that hardly constitute “unrelated incidents.” They also claim that there is an existing directive in the TSA’s policy to check individuals carrying substantial amounts of money and that this is part of the inherent functions of the agency.
The plaintiffs further asserted that the DEA has a nationwide program dubbed “Operation Jetway” under which they allegedly take millions every year from countless passengers in airports. Additionally, they claim the DEA is more interested in property seizure than investigations. They based this on a report by the DOJ Inspector General who discovered that in most cases involving forfeiture, the DEA did not continue investigations. Finally, the plaintiffs claim there is a standard procedure in the agency to take cash that amounts to more than $5,000.
With all these arguments presented, a federal judge hearing the case seconded the magistrate judge in not allowing the government agencies to dismiss the case. Three of the claims were approved for trial in federal court, including the violation by the TSA for holding passengers after completing screening, and the violation of the alleged victims’ Fourth Amendment rights by both agencies.
It is not illegal to fly with cash in the U.S. The $10,000+ declaration rule only applies when crossing the border in or out of the country; it does not apply to regional travel. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to challenge the forfeiture with the assistance of an attorney
Nationwide Federal Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney
Has law enforcement 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.