We will finally get answers to TSA and DEA questions by confiscating cash at airports.
Gary Leff at 1. April 2021.
A year ago, a class action lawsuit was filed across the country against the TSA and the Drug Enforcement Administration for seizing cash from travelers at airports.
The case began when a woman helped her elderly father move from his home to an apartment. He didn’t trust the banks and kept his $82,000 in savings. She convinced him to open a joint bank account with her and took the money with her to Boston, as the banks were closed that day and she would be leaving early the next morning.
Money was found at the station. She was questioned. The DEA arrived and insisted on calling her father to verify the story. They woke him up, he’s old and confused. That’s why she wanted to open a joint account. The DEA brought them in – the stories didn’t add up – and they confiscated his savings. Without that money, he couldn’t get his painful cavities fixed or his truck fixed.
Neither the woman nor her father was ever charged with a crime, but the government kept the money. You’re not alone. Other plaintiffs joined the action last summer.
More than $200 million has been seized at 15 major airports at the discretion of law enforcement. They have to have more than $10,000 a year, and it’s enough if they have more than $10,000.
- Five years ago I wrote about a man whose savings were confiscated because his luggage smelled of weed. All the driver of your Uber or Lyft has to do is hoe the grass on the road to the airport and the government takes your money. It was one of 90 seizures made annually at the Cincinnati airport alone. (Full disclosure: I became an expert witness in this case, but there was no trial, the government backed down and gave him his money back).
- Around the same time, I did a story about a man who had $44,000 confiscated at JFK airport in New York, although he had never been charged with a crime. He could not get his money back because he needed 90 days to apply for a refund and the government only gave him 35 days to file a lawsuit in federal court.
- I also wrote about a nurse who took money to open a medical clinic in her home country. She knew what to declare when she brought over $10,000 in cash into the country. But she didn’t know – and most people don’t know – that you have to file a tax return if you bring more than $10,000 in cash out of the country. She was never charged, but the government insisted that she waive her right to sue and allowed her to keep some of her money to cover her expenses during the prosecution. This is one of 278 cash seizures made at the Houston airport this year alone.
Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Horan denied the government’s motions to dismiss and allowed the three complaints to proceed.
- The SSA exceeds its legal authority by detaining travelers and their money after they complete the security check.
- The TSA violates the Fourth Amendment by detaining travelers and their money without reasonable suspicion of a crime.
- The DEA violates the Fourth Amendment by detaining travelers without reasonable suspicion and seizing their money without probable cause.
Whether these prosecutors win or not, it means we at least need to know how and why the state is targeting people and taking their money, even when no crime has been committed. So the process itself will be a victory – unless the government completely capitulates to avoid the process.
Long before 9/11, when things were getting worse, then 8th Circuit Chief Judge Richard Arnold wrote in a decision (1992):
Airports are becoming war zones where anyone can be stopped, questioned and even searched at the discretion of the on-site police. In my opinion, this practice seriously threatens the freedom of the citizen. The sanctity of private property, a precious human right, is threatened. It’s hard to develop much sympathy for Weaver. He gets what he deserves, in a way. What is missing here, however, is the recognition that enforcement is a broad concept. It includes the application of the Bill of Rights and criminal law. Cases in which innocent travellers are arrested and hindered in their legitimate activities are not brought before the courts. They leave alone, too busy chasing the officers who detained them. Therefore, in such cases, motions should be made to uphold the Fourth Amendment.
More on asset forfeiture, from last week tonight: