TSA Asks America To LOL At Traveler Who Had $75,000 Taken From Him By Federal Agents

from the the-4chan-of-government-agencies dept

The TSA runs a fairly entertaining Instagram account, if you’re the sort of person who is impressed by pictures of weapons seized from stupid passengers. That would be the extent of its social media prowess. Its blog is pretty much a 50/50 mix of Yet Another Thing You Can’t Take Onboard and Blogger Bob defending the TSA’s latest gaffe.

One of the TSA’s official Twitter flacks tried to loft a lighthearted “hey, look at this thing we came across!” tweet. She couldn’t have picked a worse “thing” to highlight, considering the ongoing outrage over civil asset forfeiture.


For those who can’t see the embed, the tweet says:

If you had $75,000, is this how you’d transport it? Just asking! TSA @ #RIC spotted this traveler’s preferred method

Pictured was someone’s carry-on bag, opened to expose the cash contained in it.

First: should the TSA be broadcasting the contents of someone’s luggage — especially considering the contents are a large amount of cash — along with broadcasting the airport where it was discovered and the baggage’s appearance? There may not be any recognizable privacy violations here, but it’s certainly bad form. And it does no favors to the person carrying it.

Second: unless the traveler was attempting to take the money out of the country without reporting it to Customs, it’s none of the TSA’s business how a traveler carries money from place to place. It may be careless, but it is not illegal and it is certainly not something government agencies should spend too much time obsessing over. (But of course they will, because travelers’ cash can quickly become the government’s cash, thanks to civil asset forfeiture.)

Third: the TSA’s public interest in this member of the public’s cash is flat-out unseemly. Not only does the tweet portray the unnamed person as some sort of idiot/criminal (or both!), but it led many to the obvious assumption that this cash was seized.

But, you know, LOL #otherpeoplesmoney and all that.

The foregone conclusion that this money had been seized was (momentarily) dispelled by another tweet from the TSAmedia_Lisa account.

TSA didn’t seize/confiscate/take it. It alarmed the x-ray machine as an unknown and we spotted it. It’s just a curiosity

So, somehow a passenger managed to walk through airport security with a large amount of cash and managed to still be in possession of it on the DEPARTURE side of the checkpoint?

No. This is AMERICA, land of the somewhat free and home of the brave drug warrior.

A followup email to the Washington Post’s Chris Ingraham proved TSAmedia_Lisa’s (Farbstein) response was technically true and completely disingenuous.

Asked about the incident via e-mail, Farbstein said that “the carry-on bag of the passenger alarmed because of the large unknown bulk in his carry-on bag. When TSA officers opened the bag to determine what had caused the alarm, the money was sitting inside. Quite unusual. TSA alerted the airport police, who were investigating.”

It seems the police didn’t just “investigate.” They worked with another federal agency to take the money:

In this case, the cash was seized by a federal agency, most likely the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Richmond airport spokesman Troy Bell. “I don’t believe the person was issued a summons or a citation,” he said. “The traveler was allowed to continue on his way.”

So Farbstein’s claim about how it was “just a curiosity” is completely bogus. Not only was the photograph and putting it on social media a questionable invasion of privacy, but then they handed it off to another federal agency to take the money… and then the TSA clearly implied the opposite on social media once the story blew up.

It’s not entirely clear which “federal agency” took the money, but a good guess is that the DEA is likely in possession of this “curiosity” now, thanks to its willingness to troll mass transportation departure points in search of “guilty” money.

Also ridiculous is the airport spokesperson noting that the traveler was allowed to “continue on his way,” $75,000 lighter. As if that makes everything OK? If this money is completely unrelated to criminal activity, the government has just stolen money from one of its citizens. If it is linked to criminal activity, the traveler is probably in for a world of hurt if it belonged (or was owed) to someone else. Either way, the citizen loses, the government wins and the TSA badly mishandles another social media interaction.

So, the TSA’s attempt at cheery lightheartedness did nothing more than once again expose its dark, humorless center. The tweet may as well have read “If you had $75,000, you don’t have it any more! Just saying! #freemoney” One of the nation’s most tone deaf agencies continues to prove it simply won’t be outdone in this category. And the trickle of details confirmed what everyone was thinking the moment this picture hit the internet: that the person carrying that money was last in possession of it shortly before the photo was taken. The government gets its man money and the TSA delivers the news as a punchline at the expense [pretty much literally] of some random traveler whose misfortune is the government’s gain.

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Comments on “TSA Asks America To LOL At Traveler Who Had $75,000 Taken From Him By Federal Agents”

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79 Comments
Baron von Robber says:

“If you had $75,000, is this how you’d transport it? Just asking! TSA @ #RIC spotted this traveler’s preferred method”

Well if you were not aware that the government can steal your cash, you might think…

“Hmm, the airport has lots people with guns. And the plane I’ll be on is very limited in people coming and going from the plane while in flight (except that DB Cooper guy). And there will be lots of people with guns at the place I land. Sounds very secure to transport my money.”

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Gah!

I bought a property in Mexico over 10 years ago for $55,000. We are selling it now for about 2x that. So, how do I get to “repatriate” my $$ without being held up by the US government? I don’t have a problem with the long term capital gains taxes (still 10% I think) on the profits (about $5500), but since these assholes seem to think that anything over about $100 cash is “drug money”… I am thinking that I will have the bank wire me about $5000 per month. Not sure if that is going to keep them from stealing my money, but I know for sure that I can’t just stick it in my bag and fly it back!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gah!

Do what the big end of town does when transferring large sums of money over state boundaries. Form multiple companies in various countries, then have one company loan another company money at high rates of interest. Then have the other company pay that loan back with interest over the border & voila, no taxes need to be paid, anywhere. Heck you may even get a tax refund for running that business at a loss (naughty you!)

Village Idiot (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If there was nothing outside of the interaction with the TSA, there should not be an investigation. the passenger should not have had their funds removed. Having cash is not a crime, and it does not constitute a reasonable and articulable suspicion.

Just the idea that the government feels they can open an “investigation” based on whim really irritates me.

“We have looked into Mr. Passenger and concluded that there was no crime that took place. Since our investigation has shown that he broke no laws while engaging in his legal activity, we have returned his money. Less the admin fee.”

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The way I understand it is that the system is gamed so that it’s unlikely they will get the money back. As I’ve read, it’s something along the lines of – charges of suspicion are filed against the money (not the person – the money), and the original owner has to file suit to prove its innocence of being illegally obtained (not for the government to prove guilt of its original owner). So, even if they get it back, they’ve often spent it on lawyers in the process.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

When is this going to stop?

At what point will the courts step in and start actually reaffirming the 5th amendment? It is PLAINLY there!

“No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”

IT IS FREAKING THE 5TH AMENDMENT! plainly there! obviously there!
I mean I can sorta kinda MAYBE understand freezing assets in a court case when they can linked to criminal activity and you are trying to recover them.
But to essentially steal property from somebody and not even charge them with a crime is outright plainly against the 5th amendment. How has the courts allowed this to stand!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When is this going to stop?

The Third Amendment seems to be in pretty good shape. Now that we have paramilitary pseudo-soldiers claiming to be law enforcement officers, we do not need to quarter actual soldiers in your home, so we’re technically in compliance even when we do use your home without consent.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: When is this going to stop?

There’s also this bit to the 5th Amendment:

“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

How does that not apply? They’re taking the private property of citizens for (ostensibly) public use– law enforcement purposes– and not compensating them for it.

Since the Supreme Court has ruled that “just compensation” is fair market value, then the DEA should have to pay the fair market value for the $77,000 in cash that it took– and fair market value on $77,000 in cash turns out to be $77,000.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: When is this going to stop?

Actually the government doesn’t see this as a 5th Amendment issue at all.

See they aren’t depriving _anyone_ of their constitutional rights (especially not the 5th amendment). The person wasn’t seized, the money was. Money [unlike say a corporation] isn’t citizen and therefore has no constitutional rights to violate.

There you go, nice, tidy, and above all, legal.

Until the courts strike down this legal fiction, along with that whole third party doctrine, and stop letting the government press charges against inanimate objects, the 5th amendment (as well as the 4th, and perhaps a few others) will be nothing more than a quaint idea.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When is this going to stop?

The Constitution says people are entitled to due process and are protected against unreasonable seizures? No problem. They just claim that the process you are “due” is one where you bear the burden of proving a negative, and that the seizure is “reasonable”.

This is failure of all three branches. The legislative branch should never have passed civil forfeiture laws, the executive shouldn’t be using them whenever they see cash, and the judicial should be striking the laws down.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: When is this going to stop?

How has the courts allowed this to stand!

Two words: Drug War.

All the laws get tossed out the window with those two words, because no judge or politician has the guts to stand up and defend ‘those filthy druggies’, as it would be political suicide. Even if they do, the vast majority of politicians will immediately jump up and declare that they will never ‘coddle’ the druggies, and if a few laws need to be bent a little, or flat out broken to get them, then so be it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bribery

I think they do know how bribery works. In a bribe situation, you would have to give some of your money immediately to keep the rest. In forfeiture, they take all your money right now and you might eventually get some of it back if you go the expensive legal route and are very lucky. For them, this is so much better than bribery – it’s legal!

After all, they are just looking out for us poor citizens. They find criminal money following us around and “arrest” it before it can hurt us.

MrTroy (profile) says:

Re: Typo

Actually, I think it’d be funnier to start calling it federal piracy:

“TSA Asks America To LOL At Traveler Who Had $75,000 Pirated From Him By Federal Agents”

Take the word back to what it used to mean, you know? With the added benefit that old-school piracy is one of the few crimes that is actually punishable by international law!

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Actually you are [letting the government walk all over you] they are called the DEA.

I don’t get it. Please explain why the agency being called the Drug Enforcement Agency indicates that the seizure is consensual?

As far as I understand we have no rights to resist the will of the DEA or any other law enforcement agency except after the fact.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

You know, I suspect they WILL know when they've encountered dirty (criminal) money...

…because the person they robbed it from would rather suicide by cop, and get some reprisal, rather than face the consequences of showing up to his destination empty handed.

Last I checked, if you are carrying money for the mob (any mob) and the amount doesn’t balance, they feed you to the factory’s tooling machines unless the sharks are peckish.

So when the person set free comes back with a gun or a bomb and kills the seizing officer (or someone at random in the precinct) that’s how they’ll know they actually used the civil forfeiture laws for the purpose for which they were intended.

Ben (profile) says:

What happened to Probable Cause?

If this money is completely unrelated to criminal activity, the government has just stolen money from one of its citizens.

Who cares if it related or unrelated to criminal activity? The TSA (and the airport police) have *no* probable cause for considering it related to criminal activity.

Note that for cash it has “This note is legal tender for all debts public and private”, whereas a check (or other means of money transfer) doesn’t; there is no reason for anyone to gainsay why a person is carrying cash: all debts public and private means the reason can be private.

JoeDetroit (profile) says:

This is not new at all

My brother-in-law, now retired, ran a team at LAX (County Sheriffs BTW) that placed a cop (not TSA) right in front of the gate while a plane was unloading. The crowd would stream around him while he scanned for suspicious people. Once he saw one, that person was detained, searched, & if they had money, it was seized.

They did over 5 million in one year, as in 2010.

A “receipt” was given & if they could produce a paper trail for the money, it was supposedly returned. He claimed that no one ever carries large amounts of cash that’s legitimate. He was quite proud of their work.

Rekrul says:

I would really like to see a show like 60 minutes do an undercover report where they film the money being withdrawn from the company account and then being seized at the airport. They should do it 3-4 times, but not reveal themselves to the agents making the seizure. Then after all the money has been taken, air the episode and catch the feds with their pants down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Don’t be a overseas tourist who got some USA cash back home from the bank & then brings it into the USA. I did & the looks from the locals when I tried to spend a new $100 note was amazing. At home in my country $100 notes are used all the time for cash transactions, even the cash machines hand out $50 notes. But then we get paid more than you guys do, so maybe that’s why.
Whereas $50 notes in the USA are looked upon with suspicion as the cash machines hand out only $20 notes. How backwards is that when you take out $500 at a time to save exorbitant overseas transaction charges that your bank & credit card company charge.

David says:

Calling a spade a spade

Asked about the incident via e-mail, Farbstein said that “the carry-on bag of the passenger alarmed because of the large unknown bulk in his carry-on bag. When TSA officers opened the bag to determine what had caused the alarm, the money was sitting inside. Quite unusual. TSA alerted the airport police, who were investigating.”

It seems the police didn’t just “investigate.” They worked with another federal agency to take the money:

In this case, the cash was seized by a federal agency, most likely the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to Richmond airport spokesman Troy Bell. “I don’t believe the person was issued a summons or a citation,” he said. “The traveler was allowed to continue on his way.”

So Farbstein’s claim about how it was “just a curiosity” is completely bogus. Not only was the photograph and putting it on social media a questionable invasion of privacy, but then they handed it off to another federal agency to take the money… and then the TSA clearly implied the opposite on social media once the story blew up.

Well, it’s teamwork. In American Football, the quarterback does not try scoring. Instead he passes the ball to the big bad uglies who then make a run for the end zone. If nothing else works, they’ll kick the living shit out of the ball and/or pass it off to the next big bad ugly.

Don’t give the defense a single target. Instead, split the crime into multiple less conspicuous parts.

That’s structured high way robbery. You wouldn’t expect less from an organized crime syndicate, now would you?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: There goes the ransom money

That really would work with any briefcase MacGuffin. I’m pretty sure the TSA would seize (or signal another agency to seize) the glowing whatever-it-was that Jules Winnfield was delivering.

In fact, that would be a great motion picture right there. Winnfield is outnumbered and outgunned by police when they seize the briefcase. Now the Bad Motherfucker has to go and get it back.

Casey says:

The rest of the story

The guy did have outstanding warrants for his arrest, so the money would have been seized anyway.

That does not excuse the TSA for taking the picture, or posting it nor glossing over their involvement in this case. It is not a crime to carry cash. No matter what the numbskull in this article says:

http://wtkr.com/2015/07/01/tsa-seizes-75000-in-cash-from-richmond-passenger-and-he-may-not-get-it-back/

Anonymous Coward says:

Us Against Them...

Read this take on asset forfeiture from the U.S. Postal Inspector website:

The Asset Forfeiture Program is an integral law enforcement tool that benefits the Postal Inspection Service by:
1. punishing criminals by taking the profit out of criminal activity,
2. preserving the forfeited assets for identified victims whenever possible,
3, increasing revenue for law enforcement purposes, and
4. providing an enhanced ‘esprit de corps’ among law enforcement through equitable sharing.

It really is “us” against “them”.

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