Nail Salon Owner Sues For Return Of Life Savings Seized By DEA Agents At Airport

from the law-abiding-citizens-don't-carry-cash dept

Here’s something you see all too rarely — not because the government’s civil asset forfeiture programs aren’t routinely abused — but because it’s a good way to spend lots of money fighting a losing battle.

Vu Do, owner of two nail salons in New York City, is trying to retrieve nearly $44,000 — his life savings which he had put together over twenty years — taken from him by the DEA at the JFK airport. The complaint points out that Do has run two legitimate businesses in NYC for several years, and not once has he been arrested or even charged for violations of controlled substances laws.

Nevertheless, the DEA took all of Do’s money under the assumption that he’s involved in the drug business, despite being more than willing to let him go without even a citation. Do had planned to take his money to California to help his financially-struggling siblings out, but ran into the DEA first.

Then there’s this:

The Plaintiff did not know that it was a violation of Federal regulations to carry cash in excess of $5,000 at the time of the seizure.

There’s a good reason for not knowing this. There is no federal regulation prohibiting citizens from walking around (or boarding planes) with any amount of cash. Asset forfeiture laws make this practice unwise, but nothing in federal law says Do was forbidden from boarding a plane with his $44,000.

There are reporting requirements for any amount over $10,000 in cash traveling in or out of the country, but nothing says travelers can’t go from state-to-state with their own money. They don’t even have to report it. They will, obviously, experience more scrutiny from the TSA, but it’s not illegal to do what this salon owner did.

So, why is this in here? It could be that Do performed his own research and came to the wrong conclusions. But that doesn’t explain why his legal representation didn’t point this out to him or remove it from the complaint. My guess is it’s either an oversight (by his lawyer) or him just repeating what a TSA/DEA agent told him en route to the seizure of his money.

The DEA can easily bleed Do dry, or at the very least make it a break even scenario. Trying to get the government to return seized property is about as straightforward as engaging in quantum mechanics with a headful of acid. (Or firing a teacher in New York City.) This chart, part of the Heritage Foundation’s new PDF discussing the many abuses of civil asset forfeiture, shows exactly how much work — and how much can go wrong in the process — it takes to get your stolen property back. (via Reason) [click through for a larger version]


According to this chart, Do has no shot at reclaiming his money. He had a certain amount of time to challenge this seizure (until April 30, according to the DEA’s administrative seizure notice) and his June 17 lawsuit falls well outside that time limit. Not being “timely” is pretty much an instant loss.

If so, that’s 20 years worth of savings headed towards ensuring the DEA has the funding to keep seizing cash from travelers. Despite its best efforts, an actual drug trafficker will occasionally stumble into the agency’s sticky grasp, inadvertently legitimizing the whole crooked program. I can’t imagine the DEA looks forward to encounters with actual criminals, seeing as it involves arrests and a whole bunch of additional paperwork. Cash is king. And as long as asset forfeiture programs remain in effect, government agencies will prefer the easy busts of “guilty” money over the more legitimate effort of removing criminals from the streets.





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Comments on “Nail Salon Owner Sues For Return Of Life Savings Seized By DEA Agents At Airport”

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55 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

And another example of robbery at badge-point, showing once more than only the stupid thieves join gangs or cartels, where they have to worry about laws, while the smart ones go into politics or ‘law enforcement’, where they don’t.

I’d wonder how scum like them live with themselves, but I’m sure the stolen money and property they grab makes for a great distraction to keep them from realizing that they’re even worse than the non-badge toting thugs they pretend to be there to stop.

At least an ‘unofficial’ thug doesn’t try and claim that he’s robbing you blind for your sake, and you can actually fight back against them, unlike here where the entire system is stacked against the victim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

A famous quote often quoted here

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval
of their own conscience.”

C. S. Lewis

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

If forming a corporation was about being “paid for your labor,” no one would have a problem with it. But all too often these days, we see examples of people forming a corporation to be paid for someone else’s labor, and it’s not at all irrational to realize, and point out, that there’s something very wrong with such a system.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: A dumb criminal goes into a cell, a smart one goes into politics or law enforcement

Well Bergman, its obvious you’re not stupid, so I have to assume that this was either an attempt to muddy the water, or a paid advertisement.

The purpose of forming a corporation has nothing at all to do with being paid for your labor.

A corporation is formed so that when the board of directors is caught breaking the law, the board of directors do not have to go to jail, or personally pay any fines out-of-pocket.

The Corporation – a “legally incorporated entity, or non-person person” – goes to trial instead, while the BoD goes about its business as usual.

Since you cannot jail a “legally incorporated entity”, a fine is levied unto the entity by the courts instead, if the non-person person is found to be guilty.

In simpler terms, its a legal method of skirting the laws that are suppose to prevent criminal business practices, so that those who actually plan and perpetrate the crimes need not suffer the normal incarceration penalty, or suffer any subsequent detrimental affects from punishments incurred by law.

Instead, a corporation simply pays the courts a small percentage of the profits made from the crime, for the privilege of breaking the law, and carries on as if nothing happened at all.

In fact, a deal is often struck between corporations and the courts, wherein, the corporation pays an undisclosed sum of money, and the courts keep their judgement of guilt or innocence a secret from the public, eliminating even the minimal punishment of public shame.

But nice try eh. 🙂

radix says:

Keep appealing

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated

nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

These stories always get me more fired up than any other. It’s black and white. Totally illegal; a violation of multiple Constitutional rights, and the laws are still being abused.
Have asset “forfeiture” (theft) laws ever been tested at SCOTUS? I can’t even imagine the justification for saying this is OK.

Jake says:

I do have one question, though. Why the hell didn’t he just send some cash by Western Union? Quite apart from the fact that any competent law-enforcement agency would have some rather pointed questions if they had cause to search his bag, he’d have looked a prize tool if he’d run into a stick-up artist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Western Union limits how much can be sent (looks like $5000) – and the fees are a bit ridiculous too.

Also – clearly this guy didn’t have the money in a bank account, otherwise he could have just withdrawn it from a local bank branch after arriving at his destination (assuming it was a major national bank)…

Who knows what the circumstances are – it doesn’t matter.

It’s still frightening as hell that the U.S. government can just take your legally-acquired property as they see fit without actually convicting you of a crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Time to take back your country, you can not let these thugs just take what they like when they like.

Its great your countymen don’t give 2 shits about these poor people getting their guilty money stolen. If you did care, the DEA and your government would be in a rebuilding phase after they were all turfed, but nah, everyone just keeps living their little lives and screw everyone else.

Guess we are all keyboard warriors, I am just lucky I do not live there in the Crappy USA that steals from its citizens more often than any other country, and you guys think your free?

I bet your forefathers they are spinning in their graves, good job on running your country like 6 year olds, “thats mine give it to me”.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I can only imagine the conversations they must have with friends and family.

Father: So what do you do for a living these days?
Government employee: I uh… I sell drugs to school children.
Mother: Well, while your father and I may not agree with your career choice, I suppose it could be worse. Why, you could be working for the government!
G. Employee: Uh, yeah, that would be pretty bad. But uh… no worries, I’d never stoop that low, really.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

What dren!

I will be selling a property in Mexico that I purchased (I have the contract in hand) for $55,000 over 10 years ago. I am selling it, and I will get about twice that, for a $50,000+ profit after Mexican taxes, attorneys fees, etc. So, I will have about $110,000 to bring back. I think I will have my attorney there wire me about $5,000 per month, which I will declare 1/2 of as long term capital gains. At least I won’t be robbed by the US Border Patrol or DEA, or Texas State Police!

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s outrageous that Americans have to live in constant fear of thugs robbing them of their lawfully earned money. I’ve read about these robberies happening on trains, planes, and automobiles.

At least Techdirt keeps us apprised of these crimes and the thugs who commit them. Techdirt readers won’t be blindsided by these thugs. I never would have imagined injustices like this are happening all across America.

The Mafia at least pretends to offer a service in return for the money they take. Thugs wearing badges don’t even offer a service in return for the money they steal. That makes them worse than the Mafia.

David says:

Re: Re:

The Mafia at least pretends to offer a service in return for the money they take. Thugs wearing badges don’t even offer a service in return for the money they steal. That makes them worse than the Mafia.

They make your life safer by getting the criminals off the street and into uniforms where they are easy to recognize.

Nomad of Norad says:

Legal robbery

I have said this again and again. Civil forfeiture needs to be declared absolutely, 100% illegal both at the Federal AND at the State level. Ideally it also needs to be set retroactively so, as in, every agency that ever unfairly took money away from a citizen without absolute proof it was gained through crime must be required to give every thin dime back to everyone they took it from, but that’s probably far harder to get made into law.

But another thing that absolutely has got to be done is… make a Federal law that no government agency in the USA, Federal OR State, is permitted to benefit ONE THIN DIME from ANY confiscated money or property. It should be required that every single PENNY of it go to some unrelated charity. Say, to a drug-rehab non-profit organization that has NO connection at all with the law enforcement agencies.

This would chop the legs out from under this tendency to unilaterally confiscate stuff under the *theory* that they *might* have come about due to criminal activity…. because too often now there’s a conflict of interest, and the law enforcement agency itself benefits from all that money (i.e. they can buy more fancier police cars than the taxpayers might want to spend money on, or they can buy fancier equipment than they really need) which therefore makes them far more likely to find any excuse they can to take the money, and any excuse they can to not give it back once they have it, and so they have a very strong (greedy) incentive to keep engaging in civil forfeiture. This catch22 must be broken out of, and the simplest way to do that is to take all that confiscated money completely out of the hands of the police departments and the DEA and any other law enforcement agency of any kind whatsoever: that is, they can lock it away as evidence, but legally can’t touch the money itself, and if they can’t prove in a court of law that it came from a crime, then every single dime goes back to the one they took it from. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Legal robbery

But another thing that absolutely has got to be done is… make a Federal law that no government agency in the USA, Federal OR State, is permitted to benefit ONE THIN DIME from ANY confiscated money or property. It should be required that every single PENNY of it go to some unrelated charity. Say, to a drug-rehab non-profit organization that has NO connection at all with the law enforcement agencies.

An excellent idea! This would take away the incentive of so called “law enforcement” agencies to steal people’s money. There’s no incentive for them to steal if they can’t keep it. Genius!

Klaus says:

One of the reasons why I no longer travel to the USA

I’ve been many times to the USA. There are wonderful sights to see, the people are great, and I have friends in Florida & California, but I absolutely won’t go there until I know I can get in and out of the country without being groped, without my electronic gear being rifled through, and without my belongings being at risk of legalized theft.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s the luck of the draw with the TSA. A friend of mine was going through an airport and the x-ray machine picked up the ~$11,000 in cash he had in his carry on. The agent running the machine stopped him, pulled the money out of the bag and then placed a hat on top of it. He called his supervisor over and said, “Look what he had on him.” The supervisor said, “So what? Give him back his property.” And that was the end of it. A different supervisor and who knows what could have happened.

Anonymous Coward says:

To Serve (Ourselves) and Protect (our Interests).

…removing criminals from the streets…

Good grief! Bite your tongue!

If they removed the real criminals from the streets, what excuse would the DEACIAF BINSA ETC., use to legally rob the non-criminals…. or as they are known to the USG, the Not-Yet-Criminals, or more often, the Adversary – We The People.

Criminals are no longer perceived by Authority as anti-social elements of society. Today, they are a most important asset and resource to the USG and its numerous extortion and enforcement Crews, because without the Real Criminals making news every day, the Tax-based dooH niboR gravy train comes to a screeching halt, for almost every “official” in America.

To Serve (Ourselves) and Protect (Our Interests).

GEMont (profile) says:

Tin Foil Suitcases

I read somewhere, years back, that all new US money has to have a thin metallic strip built right into its fabric, that broadcasts its denomination to satellites or scanners.

Officially, the purpose was to discover and track large sums of money in order to catch criminals such as drug-dealers, because such people dealt in large sums of plain cash.

Methinks this plan may have more far reaching aspects that have a lot more to do with public funds and making civil forfeiture easier and more profitable.

Perhaps its time for Shielded Faraday Wallets, Purses and Brief-cases. Now there’s a Kick-starter project I could get behind. 🙂

K.K. says:

Comically Transparent Propaganda

As propaganda goes, this effort rates a C-. Any objective reader can spot several instances of shoddy journalism in this biased hit piece, but then, the internet is where journalistic integrity goes to die. And as the comments illustrate, gullible, uncritical simpletons lap this stuff up, no questions asked. The internet runs on confirmation bias, and there are no shortage of narcissists willing to feed the beast.

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