Over the weekend police stole $138,980 from a passenger departing from Boston’s Logan airport.
The man had missed his flight and bought a new ticket. The cash was spotted as he went through the TSA checkpoint. And the only justification for taking his money was that,
- The man initially downplayed how much he was carrying with him
- He was flying to a destination ‘known as a source area for illegal narcotics’
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (United States of America v. $30,750 in U.S. Currency) anyone flying between Chicago and Los Angeles can be stopped, searched, and their cash confiscated because “Chicago is a known consumer city for narcotics and Los Angeles is a known source city where narcotics can be purchased.”
Chicago and Los Angeles are “part of a federally-designated ‘High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.’” Of course so is New York, and cities comprising two-thirds of the country’s population. Flying between New York and DC or New York and Chicago would suffice under the standard used by the DEA.
Police took the man’s money and he isn’t likely to ever get it back. And the officers bragged about their exploits on Facebook.
The man was released. He isn’t being charged with a crime. He isn’t even accused of a crime. And they’re not even insinuating that he may have been involved in one. They just took his money. With fewer passengers going through airports these days, though, there are fewer marks.
Four years ago I wrote about a man who had his life savings confiscated because his luggage smelled of pot. It’s enough for your Uber or Lyft driver’s vehicle to smell like pot on the way to the airport for the government to seize your cash. This was one of over 90 such seizures in a year at the Cincinnati airport alone. (Full disclosure: I became an expert witness in the case but it didn’t go to trial, the government backed off and returned the man’s money.)
Around the same time I covered a man who had $44,000 seized at New York JFK even though he was never charged with a crime. He couldn’t get his money back because it took him 90 days to get assistance jumping through all of the required hoops to file a petition for the funds to be returned — and the government only gives you 35 days to file in federal court.
I’ve also written about a nurse who was carrying cash with her to start a medical clinic in her home country. She knew she had to declare when she was bringing more than $10,000 cash into the country. But she didn’t know – and most people don’t know – that you have to declare when taking more than $10,000 cash out of the country. She was never charged with any crime, but the government insisted she waive her right to sue and allow them to keep some of her cash to ‘cover their costs’ incurred during the harassment. Hers was one of 278 cash seizures just at the Houston airport that year.
Long before 9/11, which caused things to get so much worse, then-8th Circuit Chief Judge Richard Arnold wrote in a decision (1992):
Airports are on the verge of becoming war zones, where anyone is liable to be stopped, questioned, and even searched merely on the basis of the on-the-spot exercise of discretion by police officers. The liberty of the citizen, in my view, is seriously threatened by this practice. The sanctity of private property, a precious human right, is endangered. It’s hard to work up much sympathy for Weaver. He’s getting what he deserves, in a sense. What is missing here, though, is an awareness that law enforcement is a broad concept. It includes enforcement of the Bill of Rights, as well as enforcement of criminal statutes. Cases in which innocent travelers are stopped and impeded in their lawful activities don’t come to court. They go on their way, too busy to bring a lawsuit against the officious agents who have detained them. If the Fourth Amendment is to be enforced, therefore, it must be by way of motions to suppress in cases like this.
More on civil asset forfeiture, from Last Week Tonight: