Last month I wrote about the man who had his life savings confiscated at the airport because his carry on bag smelled like pot.
The man admitted smoking pot before coming to the airport. In some jurisdictions and in some circumstances that’s legal under state (although rarely under federal) law. He was traveling on a one way ticket, as he had spent months visiting family and didn’t have firm return plans when he booked his travel. And he couldn’t document where he had gotten all of his savings.
That was enough for the government to confiscate (and keep) the cash. There were no drugs in his possession, or in his checked bag. He worked consistently at low paying jobs, hardly the profile of a drug dealer, and claims to have saved the money over five years.
There were over 90 seizures alone at the Cincinnati airport in 2013 where this happened. So the seizure of $44,000 from a nail salon owner at New York JFK shouldn’t be surprising.
The salon owner, who says he “has never used, bought, or sold illegal drugs” saved the money over two decades and was bringing it to California to load to his two brothers there.
The nail salon owner, however, filed a claim in federal court to get the money back nearly 90 days after receiving the forfeiture notice from the DEA. That alone means he forfeits the money, because while the DEA doesn’t have to prove anything to take the money, one must either file a petition with the DEA within 30 days or file in federal court within 35 days to be heard. For someone not schooled in the intricacies of forfeiture law, and whose savings has already been taken away, finding a lawyer to help with such a filing can be a challenge — let alone to complete within a month.
He was traveling domestically, so there aren’t even reporting requirements and it’s perfectly legal to carry as much cash as you wish.
If you carry cash through the airport, you will come into contact with the TSA and potentially the DEA. And law enforcement can take it from you, just because. And it’s your burden of proof to demonstrate there was no connection to illegal activity, not the government’s burden to prove there was, in order to get it back.