Stacy Jones of Tampa, Florida was stripped of more than $40,000 cash at a North Carolina airport in 2020 when TSA agents didn’t believe it was legally hers. The accused said she often traveled with cash on gambling trips, as there is no law limiting how much cash travelers can carry on flights in the US. This time, though, the cash was turned over to DEA agents with no one ever accusing her of doing anything illegal.
This law enforcement practice is called civil asset forfeiture. Using it, TSA and DEA agents can seize money or property from citizens without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Most of the confiscated money ends up in the coffers of state governments and is never returned to its owner.
Between 2000 and 2019, Florida law enforcement agencies brought in $646 million from these seizures. The funds are used for equipment, community programs, investigation costs, and training. However, the largest portion in Florida—45% of the seized cash or property—is simply labeled “Other,” with no way to track those funds. The Institute of Justice is questioning this practice.
The non-profit Institute based in Arlington, Virginia has filed a class action suit on behalf of three victims of this kind of “policing for profit.” The organization’s attorneys are pointing at the state of Florida as the biggest culprit. That state took in more money than any other in 2018 by seizing property from citizens never charged with a crime. The money is never returned, and police agencies aren’t able to account for nearly half of the funds.
The accused from Florida describes it this way: “No charges, no evidence, no nothing. It was just seized. It just seems like it’s almost ‘pirates of the airport…’”
The class action suit is moving forward. Justin Pearson of the Institute has been focusing on changing civil forfeiture laws in Florida for years. The Institute of Justice is asking that no money or property be seized at an airport by the TSA or DEA without stating probable cause. The Florida legislature made progress in 2016 when a bill passed that required an arrest be made before the property could be confiscated. That bill also raised the standard of evidence by demanding that there be proof beyond reasonable doubt to seize property.
The relief was short-lived. Florida police agencies found a loophole to continue receiving these funds, so the fight continues. The Institute won’t give up, however: “Florida police should be following Florida law and they should not be profiting from circumventing Florida law,” Pearson said.
In November 2020, she was notified that she would be getting her money back. The DEA gave no explanation for its actions.
“I knew that I hadn’t done anything but it was like guilty until proven innocent,” she said. “The law needs to be changed.”
If you need help retrieving funds or property confiscated by the TSA, DEA, or any other law enforcement agency, contact an attorney.
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.