In June, I reported on the case of Rustem Kazazi, who had about $58,000 in cash seized from him at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The case caused outrage across the country as Rustem was never charged with a crime. His money was taken using a process known as civil asset forfeiture, a legal procedure where law enforcement can take an individual’s property or cash without criminal charges being filed.
In good news, the Department of Homeland Security has now agreed to return $57,330 to Rustem together with interest earned. However, in a lawsuit from May, Rustem said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) took $58,100 in cash. A hearing has been set for December to decide whether the federal government will have to give Rustem the additional $770.
The recent court hearing gave insight into CBP’s behavior in seizing Rustem’s cash. In order to avoid bank-related crime and poor exchange rates, Rustem had converted his family’s life savings into cash before traveling to Albania, the country of his birth. He had planned on staying there for six months. In that time, he would use the money to repair his family’s old home as well as purchase a new property.
When he arrived at the airport, agents describe Rustem as dressed oddly, wearing two pairs of pants and three jackets. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Renee Bacchus, screeners for the Transport Security Administration spotted a “bulk mass” in Rustem’s carry-on.
Rustem was led away. Since English is his second language, Rustem had difficulty understanding what was being said. He asked for an interpreter, but his request was denied. CBP agents found the cash wrapped wax paper, plastic wrap, and tape. When asked how he got the money, Rustem explained that he was no longer working and that this was his savings.
Officers asked Rustem how much money he was carrying. He gave them several different amounts. A CBP agent unwrapped the money and photographed it. They then took Rustem’s money. CBP said they believed the money had come from money laundering, drug trafficking, and smuggling. Despite this, Rustem was not charged with a crime.
Explaining why the government is returning only $57,330, Bacchus said that this is the amount Rustem had claimed was taken when he originally filed his claim for the cash in January. Rustem had said $32,663 belonged to him and his wife, while $24,667 was his son’s money. It was only later that Rustem claimed agents had seized an additional $770.
“It would be a vain act for the Court to order the Federal Defendants to return property not in their possession,” explained Bacchus.
Rustem broke no laws in carrying a large amount of money onto a plane. Individuals must declare cash in excess of $10,000 when leaving the country, but as Rustem had a connection at Newark for his flight to Albania. He says Newark was where he had intended to make that declaration.
While the return of at least the majority of Rustem’s cash represents a success for justice, as Wesley Hottot of the libertarian Institute for Justice explains, “this case shows how civil forfeiture is inherently abusive, even when the process ‘works.’”
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.